Jan. 09—When an apartment fire forced 54 people out of their homes on Christmas Eve, a team of volunteers helped keep those people and their pets sheltered and warm.
The act of setting up the emergency shelter with the American Red Cross and facilitating a donation drive for those families is why the group exists. Now Spartanburg County's Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, wants to expand so more residents can help their community when disaster strikes.
The team is hosting a series of training sessions this month to equip those interested with the skills needed to help out when called upon. Under the Spartanburg County Office of Emergency Management, the group is able to respond to emergency and disaster situations to help in various ways.
CERT holds training sessions several times per year. The first session this month was Tuesday. The next will be Thursday, followed by Jan. 16, 18, 23 and 25.
Anyone who completes at least four of the courses will become certified and be added to the county's list of volunteers. The courses teach skills such as basic fire suppression, search and rescue, first aid and triage.
"It creates that foundation to allow citizens to hopefully be able to at least assist their neighbors and assist the community during a time of disaster," said Robbie Swofford, the CERT coordinator and assistant director of the Emergency Management Office. "The basic program is really how we lay a foundation for the volunteers. ... If everybody in the county is overwhelmed, we would call on the basic CERT responders."
About 1,300 Spartanburg County residents have taken the basic training since its inception in 2005.
Some go on to complete further training to be a part of the advanced CERT team, which is called upon more frequently. About 150 people are on the advanced team.
That team supports emergency response agencies by providing food, water, heat and cooling, along with managing winter weather and emergency shelters with the American Red Cross.
"We want a larger group to go to when first responders are overwhelmed, to use CERT members as a way to help offset some things and keep things under control," Swofford said. "This is an opportunity for people to get out and do something. The people involved are proactive."
For more information or to sign up for CERT training, call Swofford at 864-595-5368.