CERT volunteers feel the heat during training exercise

Volunteers from Laguna Beach and three other South Orange County cities brushed up on their post-disaster skills at a training exercise Saturday at San Juan Capistrano City Hall.

The annual event attracted about 100 Community Emergency Response Team members from Laguna, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. CERT volunteers assist police and fire departments following disasters such as floods and fires and are often the first on the scene.

On Saturday, the volunteers split into groups and rotated among stations, where they were required to extinguish small fires and apply first aid to people wearing fake gashes to mimic injuries following a 7.9 magnitude earthquake.

"Fire is the most common hazard following an earthquake," said Tom Pointer, a San Juan Capistrano CERT trainer.

Orange County Fire Authority firefighters lighted small blazes in an outdoor storage yard and watched as CERT volunteers, including Laguna Beach resident Kathleen Jepson-Bernier, snuffed out the flames using an extinguisher.

Jepson-Bernier finished Laguna Beach's most recent CERT training course in May, and Saturday was her first true-to-life exercise.

"I think it's important people are prepared and able to help out police and fire, who will be overwhelmed [following a disaster]," Jepson-Bernier said.

Laguna's 2-year-old CERT program has trained 102 volunteers, said Jordan Villwock, the city's emergency management coordinator.

Saturday's event was important because it brought residents from surrounding cities together, he said.

"We might need San Juan or Dana Point members to help us out [following a disaster]," Villwock said.

Laguna Beach residents Marielle Leeds and her mother, Beth, teamed up with other CERT volunteers in a medical rescue exercise. During the simulation, they propped up injured legs while partners jotted down as much information as possible about the person and his or her complaints.

Marielle Leeds grew up in Laguna and lived for a time in Hilo, Hawaii, where she participated on a CERT team. She thought it would be a good idea to get involved once she returned to Laguna.

"I know the terrain of Laguna so well, I thought it would be helpful in a coordinated effort," Leeds said.

CERT is open to Laguna Beach residents and business owners 18 years and older who have no felony convictions, according to the city's website.

The program includes 25 hours of classroom and hands-on training and concludes with an exercise drill. Training includes disaster preparedness, fire safety, search and rescue, and traffic control and management, the city's website said.

If a shooting similar to the recent deadly rampage in Isla Vista was to occur in Laguna, CERT volunteers could be called upon to help law enforcement, Villwock said.

Using a school as an example, he said, "We might help staff reunite kids with parents, pass out water."

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