NEW PORT RICHEY
“If it's sticky and it's not yours, do not touch it."
That was the command from Bill Rickert as he peppered a young crop of students with proper hygiene and sterilization techniques for dealing with a medical emergency in the field.
The first rule of thumb, Rickert said, "is to protect yourself."
Since 1998, Rickert has been training adults to help themselves and their neighbors in a disaster that could overwhelm first responders. As an instructor for the Pasco County Community Emergency Response Team Program, or CERT, he has certified about 900 regular folks, teaching them the ins and outs of fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations — skills that might be needed if you can't get through to a 911 dispatcher after a devastating tornado or hurricane.
Last week, Rickert was getting ready to churn out his first batch of teen CERT members, thanks in large part to Amanda Becker, a River Ridge High senior who had the idea for the teen pilot program and recruited fellow students to take part.
Amanda, who helps to lead the school's Future Business Leaders of America program, had heard all about the emergency response program during the FBLA District XI Leadership Conference in October. The guest speaker, Emily Meyer, a River Ridge graduate and former FBLA state president who now works as a consultant for the state Division of Emergency Management, spoke about the program. Amanda, who was looking for a subject to fulfill the requirement of senior project and FBLA project, was intrigued.
She called Pasco County CERT to ask about the possibility of training students. That got the ball rolling.
Last week, 15 River Ridge High students completed their last class, reviewing the criteria for setting up medical treatment areas, doing head-to-toe medical assessments and attending to basic treatments for burns, fractures and such. Students were also scheduled to take part in a tornado disaster exercise Saturday that would further test their knowledge and their ability to deal with an emergency.
"The main thing is to get them to know what to do in a real situation," Richert said. "We're not looking to make heroes here. The main thing is to get them to know what's wrong in a real situation — to know when something's too big to handle (that) they should stay away from it."
"This is a good bunch," he said. They're pretty attentive. They all want to learn."
"It's been fun," said Michael Roof, 15, who hopes to become a U.S. Army Ranger after high school. "There's been lots of useful information that I know I'll use in my future military career."
"It's been great," said Amanda, 18. "We've learned things like search and rescue — how to go into a damaged building without getting hurt, how to carry patients out. We're like the test group to see how it goes."
Just how the teen CERT members will be put to use remains to be seen, said Kalah Mueller, the emergency management coordinator for the project.
"We wanted to see how this worked out. Typically there are some kinks, as there are with any pilot program," Mueller said.
She noted that most of the adults who have earned certification are members of homeowners associations who would work together in specific communities. "The teens are widely dispersed in different neighborhoods," she said, "so we're not sure how we would activate them."
At the very least, Mueller said, "They'd be able to help out their own families. In the event of a disaster, they'll know what to do."