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Island’s first responders are ready for anything

August 18, 2009

Whether it’s for a plane crash, wildfire or hurricane, dozens of Pine Islanders are ready to respond. As result of Hurricane Charley, Pine Island’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) came into being.

Following Charley, several islanders have undergone extensive training to qualify for becoming a part of the emergency team.

And despite the early response, CERT volunteer Paul Baumann would like to see more islanders trained to respond during and after a disaster.

“Right now we have three teams representing Bokeelia, St. James City and the island center consisting of about 40 people,” said Baumann. “We would like to see more people involved, particularly those who live in neighborhoods like Charlotte Shores, September Estates, Flamingo Bay and Saint Jude Harbor. That way we will be sure that we have a few people in place in these areas to respond quickly.

“These people are important because they are familiar with their neighborhoods and the people who live there,” he continued. “A this point our volunteers come from all walks of life with various levels of experience and all are welcome to fill out an application and join us for training.”

According to Baumann, when completing CERT training, each volunteer receives a green CERT T-shirt and cap, a green traffic vest and equipment bag containing items like a first aid kit, batteries, flash light, a knife, saw and other items. Baumann also said that each volunteer will receive a photo identification badge which will allow them to return to the island as soon as possible after an evacuation.

The next CERT training sessions will begin this fall and applications can be picked up the Matlacha-Pine Island Fire Control District Fire Station #1 at the island center.

Among those who have been CERT trained is St. James City resident Sonny Koutsoutis.

“I belonged to the first group who were CERT trained and we learned a lot. We explored different areas like bandages, using fire extinguishes and CPR training. I now feel a lot more comfortable knowing what to do in the event of an emergency,” said Koutsoutis. I feel as though it is very important for as many people as possible to be CERT trained. I first moved here on Aug. 9, 2004, and when I was finally able to get out of my house after Hurricane Charley passed, I got in my car and wanted to help, but I had no idea how to do that. I know now that the first thing to do is to go to the fire station and offer my help there.”

In recent weeks members of the Pine Island Community Church youth group aided in a field exercise for a group of CERT volunteers. The scenario was a high speed crash involving a speed boat and a ferry boat carrying several passengers. CERT was called upon to help firefighters determine which of the victims were in critical need of medical assistance and who could wait. Among those playing the part of victims were members of the Cicoria family. Gerard, a volunteer firefighter and his children; Jed, 15; Rebbeca, 14; Noah, 11 and Emma, 11, were to appear to be suffering from a number of injuries at the mock accident scene. Upon arriving at the location of the CERT drill, each of the victims were presented with an index card explaining their condition.

“I was considered one of the victims who was in critical condition and was to be having trouble breathing and coughing up blood,” said Rebbeca Cicoria. “I think the members from CERT who treated me did a very good job and were very professional. The best part was that I felt very comforted by seeing a familiar face. I knew most of the people who were working on me and that made me feel more at ease.”

Emma Cicoria was to have suffered non-life threatening injuries.

“I was supposed to have my left arm broken, so I was told I was one of the walking wounded,” Emma said. “It was very interesting to watch the volunteers and I had fun getting to be an actress.”

Many hours of classroom and field instruction are provided by members of the island fire department and other trained personnel. CERT teams are trained as first responders in any kind of disaster situation and provide immediate services such as first aid, light search and rescue, traffic control and how to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens. Typically CERT training is delivered to volunteers during 2 1/2-hour sessions held one evening a week during a seven-week period. The training consists of disaster preparedness, fire suppression, diagnosing and treating victims in need of emergency medical assistance and putting all of these skills to the test during mock emergency situations. Each month, members of the Pine Island CERT team gather to share information and to refresh their skills to remain prepared for any type of disaster.

Pine Island CERT is funded solely by donations which help to defray the cost of supplies and training materials. Tax deductible donations can be made to the Pine Island CERT and mailed to CERT, c/o the Pine Island Fire Department, 5700 Pine Island Road, Bokeelia, FL 33922.

CERT continues to seek more participation from island residents and those interested can stop by Fire Station #1 at the island center for an application or visit

Article Photos

Special to the eagle
Among those playing the part of a victim during a recent CERT training exercise was island resident Gerard Cicoria. He was considered among the walking wounded and awaited treatment for a branch that was imbedded in his arm.



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