March 21, 2007 Edition

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Emergency response
team certified in LawCo.

Mike Bristow (from left), County Judge Alex Latham and County Sheriff Dan Ellison look over information regarding the new Lawrence County Community Emergency Response Team.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Gretchen Hunt

Lawrence County has long been blessed with an abundance of people who volunteer their time to help in emergencies as volunteer firefighters and first responders.

The county has taken the next step in emergency response by forming a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Forty individuals, all volunteers, recently attended training to become a certified CERT program. Steve Jones, director of the Lawrence County Office of Emergency Management, said work began last fall to implement a Lawrence County CERT.

The team is comprised of firefighters, reserve police officers, dispatchers and others, including some with specialties, such as search and rescue or scuba diving.

Mike Bristow of Lynn, a member of the team, said being CERT certified makes them official, but the skills represented on the team are above and beyond what is required.

"We have a team that Lawrence County would be proud to send anywhere," he said. "This is a very talented team. If we go somewhere, we ought to be able to handle it."

County Sheriff Dan Ellison agreed saying, "We probably have the finest emergency responders of any county, and this will only improve it."

Jones said CERT will augment the fire and police departments, not replace them.

"This gives the county an organized team that is responsible for responding to emergencies in and outside of the county," Jones said.

He said creating the team could not have been accomplished without the support of the county judge and sheriff.

"We have countywide involvement," Jones said.

There are hopes for continued expansion to create a team in each community. Sherri Sparks, a dispatcher with the Lawrence County Communication Center, said in the event of an emergency, people who live in a community are best suited to respond because they know who lives where and who is most likely to need assistance.

The members who have been to training are now certified instructors, so they can train new recruits.

"If it's a major disaster, agencies will be overwhelmed," Jones said. "You can bring in outside people, but a lot can be done quicker if local people are trained."

Teams added by towns or schools would be called sectional teams, according to Sparks. They would work within their communities, while the county team will serve throughout the county and in surrounding counties.

Ellison said creating the response team is a good move.

"We are pleased with anything to enhance and improve the quality of emergency response," he said. Part of the motivation for having a response team ready is the ever-present threat of an earthquake.

"In an earthquake, you can't count on outside help," Jones said. "Everyone will be hurting."

Sparks said in addition to having the team in place, continued education for residents is important, as well.

"Part of it is just about making people aware of what they need to have in case of an emergency," she said.

County Judge Alex Latham said the bottom line is that the people of Lawrence County care enough about their neighbors and others to form such a team.

"I think it's very good of the citizens of Lawrence County to take their personal time to do this," he said. "They're not paid for their time. It's about people caring about people."

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