Springfield’s Community Emergency Response Team swelled in ranks this week with the swearing-in of over a dozen members.
The new members completed a nine-week training course with the Clark Office of Emergency Management, learning disaster response skills including fire safety, light search and rescue and disaster medical operations. The national CERT program, under the umbrella of FEMA, is a way in which trained volunteers can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.
The Springfield members have a personal stake in disaster readiness, with almost all of them flood victims of Tropical Storm Irene. Springfield Office of Emergency Management Coordinator John Cottage said that two flood area residents, Jim and Karen Bonacorda, went door to door to recruit their neighbors into the program.
Karen Bonacorda said she urged involvement with with CERT "to find a way to make my neighborhood safer when it floods by creating a link between us and Springfield's professional responders."
“There’s only one person in the group not a flood victim,” Cottage said. “A couple of them are still not back in their house, which I find to be amazing.”
The Springfield CERT program was founded in 2005, but Cottage said recruitment efforts were met with less success than hoped for until this year. This year is an obvious exception; the groundswell of volunteers for the group was so noticeable that Union County officlals insured the Springfield volunteers would be outfitted with a CERT trailer stocked with emergency gear.
Cottage noted that the CERT volunteers would be visible in the upcoming township Memorial Day parade, and anticipated the group would be a valuable asset for their neighbors.
“They can help themselves, they can help their neighbors and they can help the town,” Cottage said.