Residents receive new training from police

Capt. William Berry gives some final instruction to the first CERT class in Greenwich before their graduation.

Capt. Robert Berry gives some final instruction to the first CERT class in Greenwich before their graduation.

For years, the Greenwich Police Department has reached out to the community. But now that’s being taken to a whole new level.

Last week, the GPD officially swore in its first class of members for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Out of the 51 who began the intensive training in areas like disaster medical operations, light search and rescue and incident command system, 47 finished and were congratulated for their efforts at a special ceremony on Wednesday night. But this was not a pat on the head and a chance to get a junior policemen’s badge. This is real training, and it will lead to real responsibilities for these 47 people and those who will follow them.

The CERT program is part of an ongoing state and federal effort to incorporate and utilize volunteers within the community. The graduates of the program received training in the areas of basic techniques to respond to emergencies or disasters and assist first responders as well as their fellow citizens. They will also be tasked with training their families and neighbors in the skills they’ve learned, and may be activated by the town for service during an emergency.

This program comes after years of community outreach from the police department, including the Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA), where residents are given a firsthand view of the training and situations police officers face in town, and the Community and Police Partnership program (CAPP). In fact, the vast majority of the CERT members have already graduated from the CPA, and several told the Post that what they learned there inspired them to want to do more in a program like CERT.

“I’ve been involved with these because I want to help the town,” said Frank Trotta, who was in the first CPA class and is deeply involved with CAPP as well. “This training will put me in an even better position to be able to help people. When I did the CPA, I was so impressed with what I saw. There’s so much professionalism in our police officers and a lot sprouted from that.”

That sentiment also came from Gary Silberberg, who not only serves the town on the new Harbor Management Committee but has experience in a crisis, thanks to his time serving in the Army as a medic. He recalled his own experience with the nor’easter that tore through Greenwich in March 2010, knocking trees down all over town and causing citizens to be without power for more than a week. His property was among the hardest hit in town and he did what he could to help, but he wanted that extra training for the next time a major crisis arrived.

Linda Lombardo added, “I’ve been lucky to get through all these storms and only lose power once and never had real damage. This is another form of helping out. I want to help people who need it and might still be recovering from the last storm.”

Several local couples took the CERT training together, including Sam and Mary Romeo, who have long been associated with community service, both in town government and through citizen and police programs. Mr. Romeo said he hopes more people sign up to see just how much the Police Department offers Greenwich.

“This is the next level of community/police partnership to benefit the town,” Mr. Romeo said. “We’ve gone up level after level and we’re learning new things each time that makes us better able to respond and help here. It’s been very, very rewarding. We’ve learned a lot from this. There’s a lot of things I thought I knew going into this training and these classes, and when we got into it I found out I didn’t know it and now I’m better able to participate in an emergency.”

“This is a matter of wanting to be an active participant in the community.” Ms. Romeo said. “That’s how you learn how things are done and how you learn the different levels of your government. That’s how you learn how your schools operate. … Once you go on the CPA and you go in a police car and you see all that they do, you will get the bug for this. I know I did. The police are out there working for you, and if you can help out, it’s better for them.”

Training came from Community Impact Officer Daniel Paladino and Sgt. Eric Scorca with help from the Fire Department and Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS). There will be follow-up training in areas like shelter management, animal sheltering and working in the town’s emergency operations center. In an emergency or severe storm, CERT members could be used as administrative support in the operations center, work in shelters and provide support to the town’s animal control department.

Chief of Police James Heavey said he had “no doubt” that another big event would come that would necessitate the utilization of reserve forces like CERT. He advised all the CERT members to review their books and training to keep sharp and also pay attention to their own homes.

“A critical component is making sure your families are ready,” Chief Heavey said. “You can’t really commit to go until you know your family is taken care of. You’re the first ones to do this, and we’re very grateful that you’re doing this.”

Town Director of Emergency Management, Daniel Warzoha said he had met recently with emergency management officials from other towns and CERT came up as a topic.

“A couple of towns said they were having trouble filling a class of 20, and when I told them how many people we had going through the program here in its first shot out of the box, they thought I was kidding,” Mr. Warzoha said. “This is a great turnout, and you guys have a long way to go to meet the mission that’s before us.”

That means there will be a lot of organization within the CERT team with people picked to represent Greenwich at monthly council meetings and squad leaders appointed within the team.

 

An expanded version of this article will be available Thursday at Greenwich-post.com.

 

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