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MERIDEN — For most, a school bus crash is cause for panic. For the Meriden Youth Community Emergency Response Team, known as CERT, it would be a chance to use skills they learned Wednesday.
Fifteen teenagers, who make up the city’s first-ever Youth CERT, participated in a mock accident drill at the Hunter’s Ambulance compound on West Main Street.
The team was given a scenario: A driver with a bus full of students has a heart attack right down the street from school. The driver, slumped over in his seat, appears to be dead, and passengers are left with injuries from sprained ankles to punctured organs. All the while, onlookers approach.
“In this scenario, these guys would be able to start assessing the scene and providing help before Hunter’s or the fire department could respond because they’re so much closer,” said David Lowell, a city councilor and executive at Hunter’s.
Participants sprang into action following the mock crash, splitting into incident commanders, and primary and secondary triage teams. Some kept onlookers at bay, while others helped mock victims off the bus, and still others began basic first aid.
Radios crackled as emergency team members checked in with each other, one calling for a Life Star helicopter.
“Once the ‘Uh Oh Squad’ got here, things got a little confusing,” said Tyler Shields, 16, serving as incident command Wednesday. Shields explained the term is used to describe bystanders.
“It got hard to keep track of who had been on the bus and needed help, and who just showed up to see what was going on,” said Tiffany Rivera, 17, also on incident command.
The emergency team is halfway through a weeklong public health emergency preparedness camp.
The Youth CERT was formed through a partnership of Hunter’s, the city Department of Health and Human Services, and the fire and police departments.
Training for CERT programs has been made available by the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 1993, and since then, communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico have participated.
Besides the mock bus crash, the Meriden youth team will learn how to run an emergency shelter at the YMCA building, as well as search for and rescue a lost hiker from the woods at Mountain Mist Campgrounds, Health and Human Services Director Lisa Pippa said.
“So far it’s gone really well,” Pippa said of the training. “These kids are absolutely great, and to me, it’s a no-brainer to get younger members of our community involved in something like this.”
The participants are taking their training one day at a time.
“This right here was sort of what I’m used to,” Shields said. Both he and Rivera are members of the Police Explorers program and aspire to be officers.
Snapping off her latex gloves and reflecting on the command skills she used, Rivera said, “Today was kind of fun, actually.”
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