When massive wildfires crept within a few miles of the main Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) campus in Livermore last month, an emergency response team established by the laboratory was called into action.
On Aug. 23, members of the laboratory’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) began reporting to the Cal Fire base camp at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton to staff the fire information call center.
For the next week, working six-hour shifts, including overnight, more than 20 LLNL volunteers answered hundreds of calls, providing worried residents with updated information on evacuations and precautions for livestock. They also helped provide food and other support for firefighters. CERT members eventually worked a total of 57 shifts, with many volunteering more than 30 hours.
This was the first time the laboratory’s CERT team had been called into action outside the laboratory.
“Our CERT team has never really had a disaster to respond to in the seven years we existed,” said Brad Bieck, a retired firefighter now with the laboratory’s Emergency Management Department. “These are people who want to help, they’re ready to help and they’re very capable. We can all be proud of our CERT team for stepping up and providing a vital resource that the state needed.”
Bieck, who leads the emergency response team, is responsible for providing volunteers with standardized Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) classroom and hands-on training in basic search and rescue, minor firefighting duties, fire safety, first aid skills, and disaster psychology and incident stress.
He said the sheer scope of the SCU Lightning Complex Fire, which eventually consumed more than 390,000 acres in portions of five counties, prompted Cal Fire officials to designate all local CERT teams as a necessary “key resource” to the wildfire response, putting out a call to all units in Alameda County.
As of the weekend, the SCU fire was considered 98% contained with Cal Fire personnel continuing to look for hot spots.
Part of the FEMA nationwide CERT Program, the LLNL team was established in 2013 and now has about 60 volunteers trained to provide immediate help to disaster victims until professional emergency services arrive.
Jenessa Dozhier, administrator for LLNL’s Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Programs, worked and home-schooled her children during the day and volunteered in the call center from 6 p.m. to midnight.
“When I trained to become a member of the CERT team it was my hope that I could do some good and help others in need,” Dozhier said. “It was a wonderful feeling to hear the callers’ stress levels come down as we worked through the call and provided them with information and guidance. Sometimes, more than anything, that’s what people need in a time like that -- a friendly voice that can give answers, help people process their situation and calm down from the stress of an overwhelming situation.”