By John Hernandez
Imagine a group of Oracle local firefighters receiving a call that a 57-year-old woman has been assaulted and has suffered traumatic head injuries. When they respond, they are met by her husband, the assaulter, who has a gun and shoots all of them.
Minutes later, a call is received at the fire department from the Sheriff’s Office that multiple firefighters are down, extent of injuries are unknown, the suspect is in custody and the scene is secure for EMS personnel to move in.
Multiple ambulances have been dispatched and are on the way but they are one hour away. The Oracle Fire Department immediately sent out a page to their Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
This was the scenario of a drill held on Monday, Feb. 11, by the Oracle Fire Department to test the readiness of their CERT Team in what would be a most difficult scenario, who will show up and what to do when all first responders are down.
The Community Emergency Response Team is a group of volunteers who have completed a number of classes designed to teach skills in first aid, safety procedures incident assistance and other venues that would help the Oracle Fired Department and the community.
CERTs may help in the office or respond to a non-hazardous emergency to assist the first responders.
The drill was not announced ahead of time and Oracle firefighters played the roles of the injured firemen to make the drill as realistic as possible. The CERT was forced to become the first responders as all the firefighters were incapacitated.
The incident scenario included injuries to the firefighters which included a dead firefighter, shock, spinal injury, unconscious, and a walking wounded patient.
“CERT teams promptly and efficiently identified the most critical patients and treated them for life threatening injuries such as bleeding and shock” said Fire Chief Larry Southard. “All objectives of this drill were met.”
The objectives included dispatch procedures, forming into two- and three-person response teams, locating the incident scene, size-up, triage, treating injuries and handing off patients to arriving EMS crews.
“Our CERTS have worked very hard to achieve the training level that they have, and this drill really showed what a valuable asset they are to the Oracle Fire Department and to the community,” Southard said.
Doug Johnson, Captain OFD CERT said the crew hoped to learn of any weaknesses and shortcomings through this drill. “We were pleasantly surprised to see the drill actually became a showcase of our strengths,” Johnson said. “The team demonstrated no major areas in need of improvement. We need to maintain the level of service and response as demonstrated in this drill.”
He thanked the firefighters in participating in the drill. “They role-played extremely well and under especially cold conditions while lying on the ground or sitting outdoors for a long period of time.”
The temperature during the drill was around 38 degrees. It snowed later in the evening.
Ongoing classes are taken annually by CERT members to update and improve their skills. They are there to assist the Oracle Fire department anyway they can. “Oracle CERT is the only group of its kind in Pinal County” said Doug Johnson.
Firefighters that participated as victims in the scenario were: Beau Houston, Bubba Matthews, Albert Ortiz Jr., Gilbert Seballos, and Jared Ortiz.
The CERTs participating were Kevin Armbrust, Susie Cochran, Collins Cochran, Mike Snyder, Rachel Opinsky, Lois Hatfield, Jenine Mayer, and Bob Elder.
Although this scenario may never play out in the community, other similar types of disasters could occur that would call upon the CERT to assist as first responders.