If a disaster strikes Newport Beach, and emergency workers can’t immediately respond to every neighborhood, it’s good to have a rocket scientist and a nurse nearby.
James Ward, 86, and Evalie “Evie” DuMars, 73, started volunteering for the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, through the Newport Beach Fire Department after retiring from their careers in the space program and medical research, respectively.
Matt Brisbois, life safety specialist for the NBFD and the department’s CERT coordinator, said they each put in more than 1,000 hours a year for the peer-led emergency preparedness program, treating it like a full-time job.
DuMars said CERT has a simple philosophy: Take care of yourself and your neighbors. That can mean doing chest compressions for a stricken friend during the five minutes between calling 911 and paramedics getting to the door or stockpiling water for the extended self-reliance that can follow a disaster.
Ward wants people to be prepared. California has earthquakes and fires. His neighborhood has a natural gas main.
“I think people don’t want to believe something could happen here,” he said.
CERT trains regular people in first aid, small fire suppression, light search and rescue and human organization. To this end, Ward and DuMars’ work ranges from manning informational booths at the Corona del Mar Christmas Walk to teaching peers how to stop bleeding or use an automated external defibrillator. They also edit and approve the planning calendar.
“They’re the hardest-working individuals I’ve ever met on a voluntary basis,” said NBFD Capt. Carlos Medina. “They’re the wheels, the chassis and the drivetrain of the CERT program.”
DuMars diffused the compliment.
“There’s a large group of CERT volunteers in the community dedicated just like us,” she said.
But this is who they are:
Ward, a U.S. Air Force veteran, got his start in aeronautical engineering designing the cockpit for the B-70 bomber. He worked in the space program from Apollo 1 through the early years of the International Space Station, retiring out of Boeing in Huntington Beach. He was in the Houston control room during the aborted Apollo 13 mission, which, he added, the movie captured pretty well.
A Los Angeles native, Ward knew Newport from childhood, visiting an uncle who had a home on Balboa Island. In 1970, he bought the Newport Heights home he still lives in for $20,000.
DuMars was a Hoag Hospital cardiology research nurse who worked to better understand the technical aspects of heart attacks. She was also a medical educator who taught international physicians at Golden West College.
She was looking for community-based opportunities after retiring. In 2011, she got a postcard promoting CERT’s classes. She signed up with her sister Marilyn Broughton and the two turned into a dynamic CERT duo. (When Broughton died in 2017, NBFD brass made the rare decision to give the civilian Broughton a formal firefighters’ sendoff at her funeral.) DuMars’ other sister Ardith Chaffee — the three women are triplets — has also participated in Newport CERT.
Her background in cardiology proved useful. One of her many duties now is teaching CPR.
Ward’s involvement in CERT, which he started about 10 years ago, makes sense too. His son Sean is the senior disaster program manager for the Red Cross region that covers Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Brisbois said DuMars and Ward have easily given more than 5,000 hours over the last few years, and in addition to helping the greater community, have also trained city staff in first aid.
“They have devoted countless hours of their own time to make Newport Beach a safer and better place to live,” said Fire Chief Chip Duncan. “They are the ultimate force multipliers when comes to CERT and community involvement.”