By JOHN T. WARD
It happens fairly often, Red Bank officials say: someone will express interest in volunteering as a firefighter or first aider, but when informed about what’s involved in terms of training and commitment, he or she begs out.
With first aiders required to put in some 130 hours in training, and firefighters 200 or so hours, “most people who want to volunteer say they can’t commit that much time,” says Tommy Welsh, the head of the borough’s Office of Emergency Management and the town’s deputy fire marshal.
Now, there’s a third way to help during disasters, both actual and potential, said Welsh: the Community Emergency Response Team. And an open house to detail the opportunity is scheduled for later this month.
Welsh and his OEM deputy, retired deputy police chief Ernie Van Pelt, are hoping to round up several dozen men and women who can be counted on to help in the coordination of emergency services during storms, fires, accidents and other catastrophes. Five three-hour training sessions are required for certification.
During an actual emergency, members might be called in to check in on invalids or residents with special needs, or to go door-to-door to provide information about conditions and services, said Welsh, who anticipates the team will conduct about four drills a year, two of them “tabletop,” and two in the field.
Volunteers will learn basic fire prevention, search-and-rescue, bandaging and other skills. Senior citizens are encouraged to consider signing up, said Welsh, who emphasizes that CERT members are viewed as those who can take steps to mitigate a disaster’s impact until such time as other, more highly trained assistance is available.
“We’re trying not to take from the tactical side of fire and first-aid response,” he said.
Van Pelt, noting that the town is divided by a rail line that could become an obstacle in the event of an emergency, said he’s hoping both east and west siders will attend the open house. He said a particular effort will be made to draw in non-English speakers from the town’s large immigrant population.
The OEM office doesn’t have much of a budget, but recently got a boost when Prown’s Home Improvements donated $3,000 from the sale of calendars depicting Red Bank weather-related catastrophes over the past half-century.
Though Monmouth County, state and federal governments provide some funding, funds are needed to outfit each volunteer with a helmet, safety vest and basic equipment.
Last August, three days before Hurricane Irene hit, the borough took title to a heavy-duty truck donated as surplus by the City of Long Branch and put it to use in the storm. Welsh said scouring government websites for surplus gear is an example of the kind of scrambling the CERT operation needs. Information technology and ham radio specialists are also sought.
Welsh’s first full year heading up the OEMwas a doozie.
Starting on January 1, 2011, he immediately inherited the traffic-crippling effects of the blizzard of the week before. In August came both a rare earthquake and the hurricane, which threatened a riverside nursing home. The OEM coordinated the temporary relocation of the home’s patients.
In that time, Welsh has expanded what was, for 20 years, a three-person operation into one with five deputies, an updated emergency operations plan and, now, the goal of establishing the CERT program.
Here’s the full text of a recent announcement from the OEM:
Red Bank is one of several shore area towns that will be participating in an open house offering more information on the program. Representatives of the Red Bank OEM will join Eatontown, Little Silver, Oceanport, Shrewsbury, Tinton Falls and West Long Branch at the Eatontown Fire House, Broad Street, on Saturday, February 25, between 10 am and 2 pm. All are welcome to stop in any time during the open house to learn more about what they can do to protect themselves, their family and their community and how they can apply to join the Red Bank CERT team. For more information, please contact Red Bank OEM Coordinator Tom Welsh at 732-530-2777, ext. 496.