Requests to the Los Angeles City Fire Department to train teams of volunteers in disaster preparedness have increased from five a week to 10 a day since the Bay Area earthquake, according to the commander of the department's civilian training program.
"I've got a stack of messages I haven't been able to get back to. This has dramatically increased everybody's awareness of the program," said Capt. Chris Burton, whose Community Response Team has trained 110 groups of about 25 people each since it was established in response to the Whittier earthquake two years ago.
Organized through businesses, churches, neighborhood associations and other local groups, the training is intended to create teams of volunteers who can fight fires, extricate victims and administer first aid when professional firefighters and paramedics are overwhelmed by a major disaster.
Even before the quake, demand for the seven sessions of 2 1/2 hours each was more than the department could meet, Burton said. "Currently there's a backlog of six to eight months before groups can receive the training," he said.
If the program continues to grow as expected, there should be 150 volunteer teams distributed throughout the city by 1993, Burton said.
"Then, rather than building numbers, we'd spend time replenishing attrition within the teams," he said.
He asked that interested groups contact their local City Council field office to get on the waiting list. To ensure full classes, the department wants at least 50 people signed up before it will begin a course. Smaller groups are combined with others in the same area, but volunteers cannot sign up as individuals, he said.
The course is usually taught in school auditoriums, church basements or business locations.
It starts with a lecture on the history and geology of earthquakes and how to protect homes and businesses from earthquake damage.
Later sessions deal with simple firefighting techniques such as using hoses, extinguishers and other equipment; search and rescue procedures that do not imperil the rescuer, and disaster first aid, with an emphasis on basic procedures such as improvising splints and bandages from magazines and T-shirts.
The course concludes with a series of exercises designed to put the lessons to use. Graduates are issued green vests and hard hats to identify them as trained volunteers.
In case of a major disaster they are instructed to secure their own homes first, then check their neighborhoods and report to a dispatch center for duty in areas nearby that may be hard-hit.
Burton said his two training teams, each made up of one captain, three firefighters and one paramedic, provide each volunteer group with a refresher course once a year. Plans call for these training sessions to be increased to four times a year.
A motion to add one more training team was introduced by City Councilman Hal Bernson and Councilwoman Ruth Galanter this year, but it failed to clear the budget process.
"In the light of what just happened (in the San Francisco Bay Area), we are going to ask for it to go into next year's budget, and we hope that the council will look at it favorably," said Rick Ruiz, a spokesman for Galanter.