Anyone scanning the Los Altos Hills Wildfire Preparedness Fair booths Saturday for signs of Santa Clara County Teen CERT members may discover them spraying water at a television.
No electronics, however, will be harmed in the process, Victoria Bebee assured; it’s all part of a demonstration of proper fire extinguisher use.
“It’s a TV that has flames, and you shoot the water at the TV, and it puts out the fire as you shoot,” she explained.
Bebee, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program general analyst for the Los Altos Hills County Fire District, is also the co-founder of the program’s teen version. Alongside Los Altos High School sophomore Mihir Mishra, 16, she launched the latter in January. Mishra, board chair, has since taken the reins and is developing various chapters, including one for Los Altos-Los Altos Hills. He’s recruited 21 Teen CERT members but is actively working to recruit more youths interested in becoming trained disaster workers.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to get experience raising awareness about emergency preparedness and getting hands-on practice for the program,” he said. “I would also say it’s another great way to get involved with the community.”
Like their adult counterparts, Teen CERT members are trained in emergency preparedness and response so that they may help themselves and others in the event of a disaster such as a fire or an earthquake. The main differences between the two programs is Teen CERT members must obtain a legal guardian’s permission to participate, and a guardian must accompany them if they are “activated.”
“That is both a drawback and a benefit because it’s not just the teen learning, but it’s also the whole family kind of getting involved in emergency preparedness, and it’s another way to kind of spread the information about how to be ready for emergencies,” Mishra said.
Through the fire district’s Teen CERT Academy, participants independently complete online coursework related to medical response; damage assessment; search and rescue; fire safety; terrorism; disaster psychology; and the operation of incident command systems. Later, they convene for a “skills day” and demonstrate what they learned at various stations. The training culminates in a graduation ceremony, typically with VIPs and representatives of the Santa Clara County Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Office in attendance.
While the Teen CERT members have yet to experience a real emergency, some were recently exposed to a fake one.
On Oct. 1, an anonymous caller forced the evacuation of Los Altos High as part of a bomb hoax. Mishra was home sick from school that day, but he spoke to his fellow Teen CERT members after the incident. They agreed their training made them feel more prepared for a credible threat.
“They felt like they had a little bit more security, and it wasn’t something, like, ‘Oh, well, a bomb came, and we’re taking off because we don’t know what to do. We’re in panic mode,’” he said. “They kind of had a sense of what they would do in the event that actually was a reality.”
The Los Altos Hills Wildfire Preparedness Fair is scheduled 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at town hall, 26379 W. Fremont Road. In addition to Teen CERT members, presenters will include representatives from the fire district, PG&E and the Santa Clara County Fire Department.