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Renton teens respond to disaster in TeenCERT exercises
Eighteen students from Hazen and Lindbergh high schools participated in disaster preparedness training drills as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) TeenCERT program on Saturday.
The morning's disaster simulations took place at Fire Station No. 14 in Renton. Drills involved community volunteers participating as victims, dressed in moulage, or fake, bloody injuries, and equipment like the training tower and heavy-lifting devices. The teens rotated through three stations: search and rescue, triage and medical treatment. The students have been training since after Thanksgiving and it was a chance for them to put their skills to work.
"I like helping people and if there is a disaster, I want to be in a position where I can help people and take charge," said Matthew Robbins, a Hazen freshmen.
Robbins appreciated the drills because he said they were hands-on and gave him insight in to what it's like to work in a disaster situation.
TeenCERT participants were outfitted with helmets, eye protection, gloves, masks and backpacks containing other personal safety equipment, with some medical supplies. The teens are trained in disaster first aid. They know how to prioritize care for victims, recognize hazardous situations, use a fire extinguisher and how to lift heavy objects.
Hazen junior Tiana Campbell loudly called out instructions to her team members and sang songs to her fake disaster victims to let them know everything was going to be all right. She sees her participation in TeenCERT as an introduction to a future medical career.
"It makes me feel good that I'm getting started and helping people out, even though they are just drills," said Campbell.
Halfway through the exercises the teens got debriefed by Renton Fire and Emergency Services staff. Tom Walker is a Hazen health science teacher and a 20-year volunteer firefighter. He has been guiding the students in their work.
"The first round was a little bit rough, but that's normal," Walker said after the first drills. "We want them to experience a little bit of a challenge, especially with having to be in command of each other. That's something that's hard to put into the normal classroom type of drill."
Walker expected the students to get better as the drills continued until noon. These students will have more disaster training than most Renton School District staff when they're done, he said.
"In the event of a real disaster, they are identified as a resource on our organizational chart," said Walker.
This is the second year the school district has opened the opportunity up to students. TeenCERT is a joint venture between the district and Renton Fire and Emergency Services with additional assistance from school resource officers of the Renton Police Department.
When asked why the district would allow students to become emergency responders and not teachers, the district spokesperson had this to say:
“TeenCERT is completely voluntary,” said Randy Matheson. “Parents are supportive of their children being a part of this important program that so greatly benefits the community. Some teachers, like Tom Walker, are CERT certified.”
The district cites FEMA statistics that say in 95 percent of all emergencies, the victim or a bystander provides the first assistance.
"Overall we've trained about 400 people in the past 10 years in the greater Renton area," said Mindi Mattson, city emergency management coordinator, of the adult CERT program.
The goal of the program is to get geographically enough people in a neighborhood, school or other location to respond as a team when a disaster happens, she said. All the students are expected to receive FEMA certificates of completion for TeenCERT and they will be eligible to participate in the adult version of the program.