Making an unreal rescue

LA CRESCENTA — A mock 7.1 earthquake struck the Sylmar area Saturday morning and damaged the Crescenta Valley town library, where some people may have been trapped.

The responsibility of searching and rescuing the victims rested on volunteers from the Crescenta Valley's Community Emergency Response Team, and they came prepared.

Emergency volunteers worked feverishly Saturday morning during the mock training scenario as they carefully shifted wood blocks in an attempt to find the missing people.

"I love the excitement, but you need to communicate and you need to slow it down," said Deputy Doug DeCesare of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's C.E.R.T. training program.

Nearly 21 hours of training in disaster preparedness, search and rescue, fire safety and teamwork wrapped up Saturday, but not without challenges.

The group of 24 emergency volunteers had to put their skills to work in several training scenarios, including searching for and rescuing victims in an earthquake disaster, extinguishing a small fire and determining the severity of a victim's injuries.

"You will get tunnel vision," Deputy Wilson Lee told volunteers before they began the scenarios.

He urged volunteers to remain focused as they worked the various tasks.

With steady hands and careful precision, Sunland resident Erin Stuber, 42, and Glendale Fire Department explorer Justin Trejo, 18, slowly approached a small fire and put it out with a single stream of water.

Stuber, who works at YMCA, began her journey with the emergency response team more than a week ago out of an urgency to protect herself, her family and her neighborhood.

"I just want to be prepared," she said. "I know we are expecting the Big One, but I just feel that's it's coming."

Whether it's the fear of a large earthquake or other potential disasters, including the threat of mudslides in a post-Station fire landscape, about 250 foothill residents have joined the area's emergency response team to prepare themselves, said Paul Dutton, the group's coordinator.

Dutton and his wife, Lisa, organize the group's training and classes. The couple also enlisted their daughter, Jennifer, to create the makeup for disaster victims in the scenarios.

"That's the whole point of C.E.R.T — protecting yourself, your family and the community," he said.

About 90% of the group's volunteers are from the Crescenta Valley, with others from Sunland, Tujunga, Glendale, Montrose and La Cañada Flintridge, Dutton said.

The group earned an award last year for providing aid to emergency responders at Hansen Dam during the Station fire, officials said.

Volunteer Liz Nelson, who joined the group three years ago, said she always tries to be prepared.

Having the skills and training to respond quickly to any disaster has molded her into a trained citizen, not a victim, she said.

"It makes me one less victim that authorities have to worry about," Nelson said.

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