Maricopa CERT volunteers (from left) Bill Robertson, Jim Fuller and Charles Morene. Photo by Mason Callejas

In the event of an emergency or disaster, when its firefighters and paramedics are in need of support services, the Maricopa Fire/Medical Department turns to a group of dedicated volunteers to lend a hand.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), is a band of ordinary citizens trained to provide support services including crowd control, hydration and other emergency assistance.

As part of National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, the program and one of its instructor and key coordinators, Jim Fuller, were recognized by the city for their past assistance and growing number of contributions.

Fuller, formerly a volunteer for the Maricopa Police Department, was part of CERT’s founding in 2012 and is now in his fifth year on the team. He, more than most, knows the importance of the typical support services they provide, though he also recognizes the team has much larger, more vital role.

“Day to day, it’s important because we offer rehab to firefighters,” Fuller said. “But in terms of the city, someday we may be called upon if there is a real disaster at some point.”

Though it was not quite a natural disaster, CERT made its first appearance at the Country Thunder music festival this year in Florence, where they assisted with ill and sometimes unruly attendees. At the festival’s medical rehabilitation tents, CERT members provided water and respite for dehydrated and overheated concert-goers, even assisting with a “minor stabbing incident and cardiac arrest.”

Fire inspector and MFMD CERT coordinator Eddie Rodriguez feels the program is invaluable, not only for the material support it lends at events, but also for the safety and security they help provide for their neighborhoods and communities. When things go bad, he said, the community needs people to help until the MFMD can arrive.

“The idea is to have somebody in each subdivision so when we do have that disaster they can take care of each of their neighborhoods,” Rodriguez said.

In the event of a disaster, he added, it’s much like the emergency procedures on a plane: “You take care of yourself and your family first, then your neighbors.”

Falling under the umbrella of FEMA, CERT is a national program that prepares ordinary citizens to “help themselves, their families and neighbors in the event of a disaster.”

CERT volunteer Bill Robertson emphasized the volunteers are not trained to provide more than just basic medical attention, though their knowledge in emergency preparedness and response can certainly keep a tough situation from becoming worse.

Their role, he said, is really to “cover that gap between when a disaster happens and when emergency services can arrive.”

CERT and programs like it have assisted in disaster events such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita, earthquakes in California, wildfires in Oregon and Texas and even at the World Trade Center in the days following Sept. 11, 2001.

In Arizona, the program is one of five offered through the state’s Department of Homeland Security Citizen Corps, each designed to assist emergency responders of all types when dealing with disasters.

Other programs include Volunteer in Police Service (VIPS), the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the Fire Corps (FC), and USAonWatch/Neighborhood Watch.

Those interested in actively volunteering for Maricopa CERT can contact Jim Fuller by email at jimfuller1934@gmail.com, or by phone at 520-840-5293.

For information on any of the other volunteer programs offered by the AZDHS visit citizencorps.gov.

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