The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Emergency Response Team program is carried out locally by sponsoring agencies that train and organize teams of volunteers to provide assistance to their communities before, during and after disasters.
In November, Wilton CERT, together with CERT’s New Canaan chapter, finished training this year’s batch of students, a maxed-out class of 25.
Of the student body, 17 were residents of Wilton — the balance being from New Canaan — and all 17 joined Wilton CERT at the end of their — as managing director Jack Majesky put it — “Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security- designed” training.
According to Majesky, the training sessions are “designed to allow students to prepare themselves and their families and neighbors for disaster events, natural and manmade.”
By FEMA requirement, students undergo six sessions amounting to 20 hours of training before being CERT-certified. This year in Wilton and New Canaan, lessons covered basic first aid, small fire suppression, the psychologies of disaster and terrorism, and the organization of CERT.
“We teach most of it ourselves,” said Majesky, “but we bring in professionals as well. For instance, we had a police lieutenant discuss terrorism and a psychologist discuss the psychological effects of disaster.”
The sessions are usually split between Wilton and New Canaan. This year in Wilton, three-hour evening sessions were held at Trackside and four-hour Saturday morning sessions took place, with reason, at Wilton Fire Department headquarters.
“We’re usually at the firehouse on Saturday mornings, because we’re actually dealing with fire,” Majesky said.
In other words, CERT doesn’t just teach by the book; trainees are actually thrust into dangerous conditions and tasked to properly respond to the emergencies those conditions create. “One of the things these guys go through is what we call the ‘smokehouse,’” Majesky said. In this scenario, trainees have to escape from a house filled with smoke.
Wilton CERT also lights controlled fires for students to put out. “We build fires, give them fire extinguishers, demonstrate, and then allow them to attempt to extinguish the fires themselves,” Majesky said.
With the addition of 17 new members, “we now have 100 Wilton CERTs,” said Majesky, “but we have trained more than 250. A bunch of them don’t elect to become CERTs; they just wanted to learn how to prepare.”
“We’ve been doing this for 11 years, and I really believe we have earned the respect — and this is kind of unique — of the fire department, and of the police department, and of the Board of Selectmen,” Majesky said.
“And,” he continued, “of the citizens of Wilton, Connecticut. Because they see us out there, and they know that when they call us, we’ll be out there promptly, and I feel good about that.”
But, Majesky warned, “once you become a CERT, then the real training starts.”