That good-neighbor philosophy is exemplified by the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), a volunteer group that supports the town’s police, firefighters, and other emergency response organizations.
The team has been particularly busy over the past 17 months. Take the Health Department, which has had a longstanding relationship with the CERT volunteers supporting flu clinics, cooling/warming centers, and community outreach events. But even with that resume, said Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter, “Never did we imagine we’d have the need for such an extensive community response.”
“While the town is tasked with preparing for all sorts of emergencies and we were indeed ready to respond to this pandemic, our town’s ability to provide a robust and comprehensive community response to the COVID-19 pandemic was bolstered because of CERT,” she declared.
Added her colleague, Carla Olson, healthy communities coordinator, “The CERT team worked tirelessly, with enthusiasm and professionalism, undaunted by the workload and ever-changing landscape of pandemic-response needs. Many of the CERT members individually volunteered 10-15 or more hours per week for over a year, and continue to devote their time and expertise to supporting residents through the Food Bank service and more. Their combined efforts are nothing short of heroic.”
Fire Chief David Grunes pointed out that the volunteers “each bring their own knowledge and background to the team. Collectively they are a dedicated group. They provide a resident’s perspective on expectations for emergency response from the community and challenge themselves to help the town meet those expectations.”
“Maybe people are looking for ways to help out or give back and CERT is an excellent way to do that and help out the local community,” said member Adam Schwartz. “While donating is nice, with CERT you can see the difference you are making.”
For more information, see the CERT page on the Fire Department website at https://www.bedfordma.gov/fire/pages/cert-community-emergency-response-team, or call the fire prevention office at 781-275-5266.
As Bedford Day approaches, CERT member Bob Dutton observed, “This would be an opportunity for interested residents to learn more about CERT and hopefully look to join us.” He asked members to comment on the group’s activities over the past year-plus, as well as “our engagement with the town.”
Longtime volunteer Sarah Dorer said she was motivated to join in September 2005 “because it was right after Hurricane Katrina, and while I couldn’t help there, I kept thinking that I would want to help here in Bedford if some kind of emergency situation arose. I remember watching helplessly the scenes from Katrina and had the same emotional response as when I watched the towers come down in New York, my home city. I would have helped there if I could have.”
Her CERT colleague Susan Schwartz testified, “I joined to leverage my skills and interests to augment Bedford’s services to the benefit of Bedford’s residents, businesses, and staff. I found that I, too, benefited, as helping others be prepared, safe, and informed, has and continues to give me a sense of community well-being, which was particularly needed during the pandemic.”
Susan Schwartz logged in detail CERT’s activities since the beginning of the pandemic. Besides the food bank, these roles ranged from posting mask-up information at town trailheads and participating in winter preparedness meetings to providing traffic flow assistance at testing and vaccination clinics.
Dorer recounted that CERT volunteers have helped run the town food bank since its inception in March 2020. “We were needed to fill grocery bags one day and then the next day to distribute the food to those in need who drove up to the site,” she said. “This has been an extensive project involving many people to make it run smoothly.”
Last winter, she continued, CERT members worked with Fire Chief Dave Grunes “to develop emergency kits that could be loaned out to the public during Covid, should the need arise, as well as write articles about emergency preparedness.” Planning for a warming/charging station in Town Hall, turned out to be unnecessary, “thankfully,” she added.
“I know for me, being involved with these regular CERT activities gave me the sense that I was doing something helpful to the town during this pandemic,” Dorer stated. “I have been thankful to be part of the group. We have recruited several new members during COVID and they have been put to work immediately.”
Dorer recalled that in October 2019, CERT members were asked to help run a shelter at Town Center when a freak ice storm knocked out power throughout the town. “We also set up a warming and power station in Town Hall where there is a generator during that same storm.”
Almost a decade before, “We filled sandbags and went door to door down Carlisle Road area with cleaning supplies after the 2010 floods,” she continued. CERT volunteers also have been involved with more benign activities, she said: setting up traffic management for the Bedford Day parade, helping with safety during the Kids Pan-Mass Challenge, assisting with the Health Department flu clinic.
Chief Grunes noted that members of CERT “brainstormed ways to prepare for weather-related emergencies with the safety guidance of the pandemic.”
“For a few years at Bedford Day, we set up displays of items that should be part of an emergency kit in people’s homes,” Dorer continued. “We even had literature on where people could purchase an entire kit. I think that information might still be up in the attic of Town Center. A visual display is always more helpful than just words or lists.”
The team trains monthly from September to June. Over the past four months, Susan Schwartz said, volunteers have learned at a suicide prevention workshop, a first-response program sponsored by FEMA, and a virtual workshop entitled “Looking Forward: Post Pandemic Resilience.” Other CERT training areas cited on the town website range from supporting a search and rescue incident to shelter management to first aid and CPR.
“Always with a smile and in all sorts of weather, we are grateful for the CERT’s dedication to the response and commitment to the protection and wellbeing of the town,” Porter said.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763