Rhinelander man working to start a citizen emergency response team
By Lori Adler, reporter
Working with EMS (emergency medical services) personnel in crisis, Will Nosek understands how overwhelming and draining emergencies can be to the people who are the first to respond. So when he came across an idea for a citizen group to aid the first responders, he knew it was something Rhinelander needed.
“I ran across it by accident,” Nosek explains, “I was doing FEMA training for my EMS course and ran across the list of certifications you can get from FEMA and I saw that CERT and started digging into it. It’s not a well-known program, but it is in 1,700 communities across the country.”
CERT, which stands for Citizen Emergency Response Team, was created by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) as a way to supplement a community’s emergency medical services. FEMA realized that the number one resource in any disaster is people.
“Nobody cares more about a community than the people that live there, and that’s one of the things that FEMA has recognized,” Nosek remarks, adding, “When we had the storms two months ago, the people on the ground were their own community members and they all worked together, so FEMA some years ago decided why not capitalize on that and train people how to respond for welfare checks and whatever really needs to happen.”
The idea for CERT is simple. A group of community members receive training in areas most helpful during emergencies and disasters. It can be as simple as basic first aid and firefighting techniques to topics such as how to perform welfare checks, how to distribute food and water and how to conduct searches. FEMA offers a majority of the training online at no cost, but more hands-on training is generally provided by local instructors.
Nosek already has about a dozen people wanting to be part of the group, but he sees it as a community-wide initiative. His goal is to have a large number of people trained in emergency response who could do anything from responding to natural disasters to simply being better equipped to relay information about a car accident scene to 911 dispatchers.
The cost of getting a CERT group going is fairly minimal. Most of the FEMA training is free, and while hands-on instructors do generally charge a fee for their course, it may be possible to find volunteers to conduct training. FEMA does have shirts or vests to allow CERT members to be easily identified, but in other communities, these items, as well as any type of equipment needed, are often provided by business donations or fundraisers.
The main step needed to create a CERT group is simply getting the support of local government as well as police and fire departments. Nosek presented his idea of CERT to the Rhinelander Common Council at their last meeting and has already been in contact with the local EMS providers. The next step now is to get together with officials from these areas to figure out exactly what types of training would be best to fit Rhinelander’s needs. The idea is simply to supplement professional first responders, not replace them, so it is important to coordinate efforts with local authorities.
Once a scope of training is determined, Nosek will begin gathering volunteers. No special skills will be needed, just a desire to help and a willingness to be trained.
Nosek explains that EMS in small communities can easily become overwhelmed in large disasters such as major storms simply because of manpower, so a group of volunteer responders can have a big impact on emergency and infrastructure services. Having a community group to support local personnel as needed could mean a lot to the victims of these disasters as well.
“It may not seem like it means much, but to that one person that one time, it means everything,” Nosek adds.
Nosek is a retired military veteran and ordained minister who works with crisis intervention for EMS personnel and veterans. He has received training in EMS and was a corpsman in the Navy (similar to a combat medic in other military branches). Nosek has created a Facebook page called Northwoods CERT for anyone interested in more information about CERT or in being part of the local group.