By LINDA WOODLAND
You see them at football games, parades, special events and accident scenes.
They wear a bright, reflective vest and swing a flashlight to direct motorists through traffic safely.
They aren’t rent-a-cops or wanna-be cops.
They are friends and neighbors who care about the safety and wellbeing of their community.
They are members of Seneca County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and each team member has completed a course of training to prepare them to respond to natural disasters as well as provide security and traffic control at local events.
“CERT is a fantastic asset in our community,” Fostoria Police Chief Keith Loreno said. “The volunteers are a wonderful resource for us when needed and are a great example of community engagement from our citizens.”
Loreno is among the safety experts who will be teaching one of the eight topics covered during this spring’s CERT training for those seeking to be better prepared during a disaster.
CERT classes will be conducted from 6:30-9 p.m. April 12 through June 7 at the Emergency Training Center at the Seneca County Fairgrounds, 126 Hopewell Ave., Tiffin. The classes are open to anyone age 18 and older, but space is limited.
“A good-size class is 12 to 15 people,” Suzanne Black, CERT coordinator, said.
Each of the classes covers a different topic, including disaster preparedness, fire safety and utility controls, light search and rescue operations, disaster psychology, terrorism and CERT organization as well as two classes on disaster medical operations.
There is a review, final exam and exercise in addition to graduation and meeting the members who make up CERT.
“We do a disaster preparedness overview, how to get out of your home if you need to, how you can help your neighbors to make sure they are safe,” Black said, adding as members of the CERT team, it is important to make sure their family and neighbors are safe before they are deployed to help the rest of their community.
“We are part of the water rescue team and we also do canteen service for the Seneca County firefighters when they are on scene at a fire. We bring food and drink and help take care of the firefighters,” she added.
The approximately 30 CERT members in Seneca County range in age from 18-66, Black said, noting six members are from Fostoria.
And while CERT members sign up for special events such as parades and football games, they are also on call when a crisis arises.
Safety forces, such as police and fire, notify the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office they are in need of CERT and the sheriff’s dispatcher sends out a notification on a pager system.
“With the diverse group that I have and with the various work schedules, a different team shows up every time. Everyone gets a notice. Whether they can respond or not is up to them,” Black said, noting in addition to work schedules there are also family obligations and other factors that may prevent a CERT member from being available.
Although the 9-week, 20-hour course qualifies someone to become a CERT member, they don’t have to become part of the team, Black said, noting it’s optional what they decide to do with what they learn.
“It’s a personal thing as well as being part of the team,” she said. “The knowledge that they gain will help their own family and neighbors get through whatever disaster might come through the county.”