City helps train volunteers for emergencies

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Kaliko Orian and Peter Crane practice using a fire extinguisher under the watchful eye of firefighter A.J. Cunningham. The buddy system is emphasized in all CERT procedures. Photo byVicky Shere

Volunteers help fill in where local law and emergency services cannot. Third in a series on fires.

By Vicky Shere / Special to the Malibu Times

How difficult can it be to build a freestanding five-foot high tower with paper, coffee stirrers and tape?

Very difficult, as 14 Malibu residents found out Saturday.

In fact, only one tower-designed like a rocket with large booster engines at its base-remained upright after it was built.

The 15-minute exercise-10 minutes to plan and five to build-shows the importance of teamwork, resourcefulness, working under pressure and goals, said city Emergency Services Coordinator Brad Davis during a training session for prospective Malibu Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, members.

Planning for emergencies is crucial in Malibu, where only 17 firefighters are on duty at one time in the four city-located fire stations serving 13,000 residents. Although there are eight more fire stations in unincorporated areas around Malibu, the firefighters and equipment might be sent to other blazes in the bone-dry, 4,000-square-mile county.

Introducing themselves at the beginning of the session, the new CERT volunteers had their own versions of statistics.

Richard Feinstein, who has lived in a canyon below Rambla Pacifico since 1979, survived two fires and saw his home destroyed in the 1993 Old Topanga inferno. Neighbors alerted him about the blaze and he left with the clothes on his back, after crashing through a police barrier in order to save his dogs and horses.

“I wanted to help but didn’t know what to do,” Feinstein said about seeing people trying to evacuate.

Deborah Long, a CERT graduate who has lived on Broad Beach for seven years, recommended the program for personal reasons as well as civic duty. “In a community prone to disasters, everyone in the community should be involved, if only for informational purposes,” she said.

“It’s information you can use to respond to basic needs of you and your family after a disaster,” said Davis, who worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for five years.

Long, who is 60, said CERT volunteers could assist staff at the City Hall Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, rather than doing more physically taxing search and rescue tasks.

Team members are needed at the EOC because city staff usually doesn’t live in Malibu, Davis said.

Saturday’s six-hour session at City Hall was one of four in the National Fire Academy and Department of Homeland Security-approved CERT training program developed in 1985 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

Besides the tower-building “ice-breaker” exercise, Davis used PowerPoint and videos to cover Saturday’s introduction to emergency preparedness and fire safety. Under the supervision of firefighters from Malibu Road’s Fire Station 88, the new recruits also took turns putting out a fire in the City Hall parking lot.

First aid, search and rescue operations, CERT organization, disaster psychology and terrorism will be covered in subsequent sessions designed to help people rely on each other until professional help arrives, particularly in isolated neighborhoods.

Malibu’s 50 CERT graduates meet regularly to train to support the activities of the city, Sheriff and fire stations at Zuma Beach, Bluffs Park and Civic Center assembly points, disaster shelters, evacuation areas and pet shelters.

Several CERT members, such as Dieter Courte, a retired airline mechanic, are ham radio operators as well.

A team member has a radio to relay emergency information to all 12 team members, Dieter said.

Dieter and his wife, Inge, took the CERT program two years ago and the Inge’s Rambla Pacifico home has survived two fires in the 37 years she has lived there.

She credits her survival to the fire drill she practiced in 1970, which she remembered in 1993, and her house’s survival to a tile roof and deck built flat on the ground.

She also had water-filled trash cans around the house and used water-soaked towels to put out embers.

Whenever she sees someone with a cigarette, she warns them of fire hazard.

Having escaped the ’93 inferno with neighbors Ron and Sally Munro, Inge says neighbors should have a joint evacuation plan.

Davis does conduct CERT training for homeowner groups, schools and businesses.

Besides training CERT volunteers, Davis, hired by the city nearly three and a-half years ago, supplies and manages the city’s EOC. Packed in boxes, EOC furniture and equipment can be assembled in half an hour at the City Hall council chamber or any location.

CERT members can be located at field command stations during a wildfire, relaying information to and from the EOC.

Davis is up at 6 a.m., updating the city’s emergency hotline (310.456.9982), which during “peacetime,” has the latest traffic conditions. Besides computers and landline and cell phone, his office cubicle at City Hall includes a radio scanner, ham radio and satellite dish linked to the Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center in East Los Angeles.

Supplementing EOC is a Mobile Communications Center, a separate unit capable of transmitting radio messages to resources outside the area, such as county and state emergency service offices.

Disaster response information is available at City Hall and at the city’s Web site, www.ci.malibu.ca.us. More information about CERT training can be obtained by contacting Davis at 310.456.2489, Ext. 260, or bdavis@ci.malibu.ca.us