Last updateTue, 14 Nov 2017 4pm


Journey through CERT: Week 3

Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Santa Clara County firefighters participate in a cribbing demonstration during last week’s CERT class in Los Altos Hills.

Town Crier staff writer and photographer Ellie Van Houtte chronicles her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training in Los Altos Hills. Following is the third in her six-part series.


Movies and TV series make burning fires look dangerous but not impossible to extinguish. But unlike staged sequences – manipulated by controlled factors and performed by trained stunt actors – real fires can be quite lethal, both to firefighters and victims.

The lungs are among the most delicate parts of the body, and a single breath of hot air from a blazing fire can cause immediate death, according to El Monte Fire Station firefighters who serve as CERT class instructors in Los Altos Hills.

Week three of CERT training addressed how firefighters respond to emergencies and how volunteer disaster service workers like me should react when faced with crisis situations within our control. Although knowing how to use a fire extinguisher or lift a heavy object off an injured person may seem intuitive, CERT exercises provide those with little experience an opportunity to learn the ropes.

Wearing a green helmet and goggles (protective gear is key for CERT participants), I navigated my way into and out of an emergency scenario last week. In addition to learning how to shut off a gas valve, I paired up with a classmate to extinguish a small fire.

Using the PASS technique – Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep – I deployed an air-pressurized water extinguisher to douse a staged fire that simulated burning wood or a similar solid material. The intense experience required my full attention as I tried to follow the instructions in my training manual. For a kitchen fire or industrial fire with additional hazards, the method for putting out the fire would differ.

Cribbing – stabilizing a person or object so that it cannot slide, fall or move – was also a new concept. Although CERT trailers are equipped with wedges, blocks and two-by-fours that are ideal for cribbing, tree limbs and objects found in a garage or backyard could be substituted. The primary objective of the exercise is to create a stable foundation for distributing weight and to use leveraging to elevate the impeding object off a trapped element.

Regardless of how dire, I learned that I should never attempt to respond to a situation that exceeds my capacity – the risk just doesn’t match the reward. My preparedness and resourcefulness may never meet that of firefighters staffing the medically equipped Rescue 14 engine in Los Altos Hills, trained to mobilize from arrival on site within 60 seconds.

According to one of the El Monte Fire Station firefighters, Rescue 14 is always staffed with at least one certified emergency medical services firefighter, who can provide “early intervention in medical emergency to complement the limited ambulance system.”

Van Houtte’s report on disaster psychology and light search and rescue is scheduled to appear in next week’s Town Crier. To read Week 1 and Week 2 in the series, click through to the links.

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