It may have looked like the scene of a terrible tragedy, but it was only practice if the real thing ever happens.
On Saturday at the Hall County fire department’s training center, members of the Community Emergency Response Team were put to the test in a simulated disaster drill as part of their graduation from the program.
The drills were designed to test each volunteer’s ability to search for victims, maintain personal safety, tend to injuries — all in a timely and organized manner.
Two groups of about 15 volunteers rescued victims from a crashed bus and a building that had been hit by a tornado. The victims were played by CERT members and were covered with fake wounds and cuts.
For the tornado rescue drill, each group had to search a five-story building and the surrounding grounds for victims who were randomly placed around the area. The fictitious situation was set up as a town called Bugtussel, where a tornado had just hit and local police officials were unable get to the scene.
Some victims pretended to be unconscious or unable to walk and some acted hysterically as they searched for family members.
The team of trainees had to get the names, location and injuries of each victim and move them to a triage area to await local police and fire departments.
The fake bus crash scenario was set up as a drunk driving incident with numerous injuries, one unconscious victim and one dead. In this situation, the volunteers had to get the victims and themselves out of the crashed bus safely.
Both groups were timed and evaluated afterwards by CERT members.
One of the victims, Al Nixon, a CERT member since February 2006, played a father who had lost his wife and children during the tornado and received injuries to his leg and face.
"I’ve always been with Red Cross Disaster Services, and this (CERT program) sounded like something I would be interested in," Nixon said.
Jerry Hulsey, also a member since 2006, was a paramedic for 12 years in California and is currently trying to earn his degree in emergency management through online courses offered by Texas A&M.
"Everyday, there are thousands of chemicals rolling through Hall County," said Hulsey, who was stressing the importance of having a local community response team.
Patsy Saint, of Clermont, was one of the volunteers in the disaster drill. Saint said she wanted to become a CERT member to be "more involved in my community ... one thing I learned was how little I didn’t know."
Tom Keith, also a recent graduate of the program, was in the U.S. Army for more than 40 years and with Civil Defense for three years.
"I wanted to continue being involved, if something happens, I’m ready," Keith said.
The groups were observed and evaluated by William Wright, program coordinator; Thomas Mulheron, program director; and Mike Mester, assistant program director. Lunch was provided by volunteers from the Northeast Georgia chapter of the American Red Cross.
The CERT program was established by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985 as a means of handling the damage caused by an earthquake. The National Fire Academy expanded the training program for volunteers to be able to handle other disaster situations.
Training takes seven weeks, with meetings once a week for two and half hours. Volunteers are taught disaster preparation, suppression, search and rescue, team organization and medical and psychological treatment.
Call William Wright at 770-531-6838 for information about joining the program. The next round of classes will be offered in September and all volunteers must undergo a background check.