First responder assistant program seeks volunteers to help in the event of emergencies

A group of OEMs are seeking volunteers to help make their respective townships be prepared in the event of an emergency.

The Pinelands Regional CERT program is seeking interested volunteers to support first responders during emergencies.

The Pinelands Regional Community Emergency Response Team supports Tabernacle, Medford, Shamong and Bass River townships’ fire, EMS or police. The Burlington County Office of Emergency Management conducts each class.

Shamong Emergency Management Coordinator John Lyons, who’s a team leader in the program, said there are roughly 100 residents in the region who are members, with close to 30 who are active or regularly attend meetings.

“With any volunteer organization, our membership and volunteer participation will ebb and flow based on people’s availability,” Lyons said. The offices of emergency management promotes residents to join the program.

Lyons said there’s no residency or fitness restriction on joining, however, only those ages 18 and up are allowed to join due to insurance rules. The county, he added, has a teen CERT program.

Non-residents who sign up for the program, however, may be referred to their appropriate municipality if they have a similar program in place.

Membership, he said, is free and people are taught how to be prepared for emergencies, disasters, medical response procedures and fire suppression, among others.

The county OEM is conducting orientation Sept. 20 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with training continuing throughout the weekend, at the Emergency Services Training Center (53 Academy Drive, Westampton).

“Upon completion of all modules, graduates receive a certificate and know a good deal about disaster preparedness, and are well trained to care for themselves, their family, their neighbor,” Lyons said. “If graduates wish to join a municipal team, the CERT program offers continued training and roles for volunteers to support our OEM and first responder agencies.”

The team was recently used to assist neighboring municipalities during severe flooding over the summer, Lyons said. The members were at the Multi-Agency Response Center interacting with residents and the American Red Cross, county’s health department and other volunteer organizations to coordinate recovery and support services.

Many of the volunteers were also at Southampton’s, Westampton’s and Pemberton’s point of distribution events, handing out water, cleanup kits and information to the residents.

Local offices of emergency management supervise and direct members.

“Pinelands CERT deployed, in the past, to support events ranging from neighborhood disaster assessment activities after an impacting straight-line wind event, administrative duties in township Emergency Operations Centers, during snowstorms and wildfires, a missing person search in Moorestown and supporting Camden County during the visit by the Pope a few years back.”

Lyons added members are thoroughly trained in communications, logistics and basic traffic and crowd control, so they were an “ideal resource” during the events.

Previously, the members were at Medford fireworks, Tabernacle’s Memorial Day parade and Shamong’s Holiday Lights assisting with crowd control, parking and other support to first responders.

The group’s involvement isn’t restricted to warm-weather events as it’s often used during snowstorms to help monitor phones, social media, weather radios and updates, and power failures.

“The team attends Fire Prevention Night events at local fire companies, including Tabernacle Fire Co. No. 1 on Oct. 7, and Indian Mills Volunteer Fire on Oct.10, distributing preparedness information,” he added. The members are also placed at other community events handing out information to attendees and recruiting new members.

Some members who hold licenses in amateur radio operations (or ham radio), a non-commercial radio frequency often used in emergencies, have been used during training and deployment activities.

Outside of New Jersey, he added CERT teams are being used to assist those being affected by Hurricane Dorian.

The team meets on the second Thursday of every month, with the next being on Sept. 12, at the Tabernacle Emergency Service Building (134 New Road, Tabernacle) at 7 p.m., unless otherwise noted. All meetings are open to the public.

To register for the upcoming training in Westampton, or learn more about the program, visit www.PinelandsCERT.org; or contact Lyons at ShamongOEM@gmail.com.

“A well-informed public regarding disaster preparedness leads to a more resilient community,” he said.