In a simulation of a real-life disaster at the April 6 Issaquah CERT class, class members practice cribbing, which is used to rescue people trapped under pieces of debris. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

Community Emergency Response Team class learns to rescue disaster victims

In an area that is a prime target for earthquakes and volcanoes, knowing how to find people who are trapped in or under destroyed buildings is a useful skill.

At the April 6 Issaquah Community Emergency Response Team class, about 30 class members learned how to size up a situation after a disaster, search for living victims and rescue them. The light search and rescue class is the fifth in the series of nine classes, which all center around preparing for natural disasters and other emergencies.

“The goal is to rescue the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” said Eastside Fire and Rescue firefighter Mike Webb, who came in especially to teach the light search and rescue class.

The first step after a disaster is to size up a situation. The size-up stage is critical because a team needs to determine whether it is safe for CERT members to enter a disaster-ravaged building or area.

The process includes gathering facts, assessing and communicating the damage, considering the probabilities (such as what could go wrong when rescuing victims), assessing the situation and the resources needed, establishing priorities, making decisions, developing and putting into use a plan of action and evaluating the progress. Buildings with a heavy level of damage — such as a house that is off its foundation, tilting, or partially collapsed — are too dangerous for CERT members to enter.

When searching a building or a room for victims, CERT members make an X on the door or wall, writing the date and time entered at the top of the X and the CERT number on the left. Upon leaving, the team should write the time exited under the time at the top, the areas searched on the right side of the X and any information about the victims at the bottom (how many are living, deceased, or still trapped).

Interior searchers should travel along walls of buildings, listening for any noise that could indicate someone is trapped. It is important to call out frequently for victims and to get an idea of the situation by communicating with them.

The rescue portion of the class took the CERT students outside to practice their skills. The process used to rescue people trapped under debris when it is not safe or possible to simply lift up the fallen item is called cribbing. Cribbing involves slowly building up a framework of pieces of wood, one level at a time, on which the debris can rest as it is slowly lifted with a long stick used as a lever.

The CERT instructors have actual cribbing materials, but Webb said that in the event of a disaster, it is often necessary to use any materials that can be found, such as a stop sign post.

“You’re going to use whatever you can … We’re talking about region-wide events and dire situations and using all the materials you can,” Webb said.

For Webb, the CERT search and rescue skills are not just bullets on a PowerPoint presentation; Webb had to put his training to use in North Carolina six years ago when a tornado struck his North Carolina town.

In a scene that sounds like a disaster movie but was terrifyingly all too real, Webb said he survived the twister “in my truck, going in reverse.” When he got out, he said, the wreckage was unimaginable.

“The buildings were completely gone, the school was completely gone, and that was just in my line of vision,” Webb described.

After the tornado, the work of finding trapped survivors began. Webb and his colleagues rescued a woman trapped under a wall; it took 16 people to lift up the wall through cribbing.

CERT instructor and Issaquah Citizen Corps Board Vice President Bruce Wendt said that the disasters the Issaquah classes usually focus on are earthquakes and volcanoes, since Western Washington is such a hot-spot for plate techtonics. However, the class also addresses tornadoes, as “a lot of people do business travel to the Midwest,” and tsunamis for people who have homes on the Washington coast.

CERT training is held twice a year and includes fire safety, disaster preparedness and medicine, medical triage, incident command, disaster psychology and an all-day disaster simulation, scheduled for April 22.

“[CERT] gets us working closely, which is good because we’ll be working together in the event of a large-scale disaster or emergency,” Webb said.

Fall CERT classes run weekly from Sept. 20 to Nov. 8. Wendt said the CERT instructors are also “in the process of preparing training for Timber Ridge” residents.

Eastside Fire and Rescue Firefighter Mike Webb demonstrates how to create a makeshift stretcher using two metal poles and a blanket. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

Webb teaches the class when it is safe for CERT members to enter a damaged structure and when it is too dangerous. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

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