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Ref: CERT training prepares community for flooding

Coulee News

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CERT training put into action to help in aftermath of flooding


For the past few years, La Crosse County has been hosting emergency training sessions for area residents. The recent record rainfall and ensuing flooding gave some of the trainees a chance to put their knowledge into action.

Last weekend, at least six people who had gone through the county’s Community Emergency Response Team training program volunteered their time to help emergency management officials with the aftermath of the flooding in southern La Crosse County and northern Vernon County.

The CERT training involves 21 hours of classroom and hands-on work covering a wide variety of topics related to dealing with the aftermath of a major disaster. CERT trainees learn, for example, about creating emergency kits, fire safety, basic first aid, search and rescue, disaster psychology and incident command structure.

Roughly 90 people have gone through the CERT training over the past several years and a number of them signed up to be on a registry of volunteers through the Onalaska Fire Department. Some CERT graduates had volunteered for non-emergency roles, such as helping with crowd control at the annual Salute to the Fourth fireworks and at airfest.

But with all that needed to be done to deal with the flooding, La Crosse County turned to the CERT volunteers last weekend to help in their first real disaster. Janet Abnet, a CERT graduate who coordinates emergency volunteers for the Onalaska Fire Department, said she and the others were glad to get the call.

“I just can’t stand by, and they’re people, too, who just can’t stand by,” Abnet said.

In addition to Abnet, Onalaska CERT graduates who responded included Jim Tonak, Dave Wolf and Liz Bonnet, while West Salem area residents Jim Cox and Bonnie Sweeney also turned out to help.

That represents about half the people signed up for the Onalaska CERT volunteer registry, which Abnet thought was pretty good given the short notice.

The CERT crew helped out by delivering water, food and cleaning materials, assessing damage and needs and gathering information needed by emergency response agencies. At times, Abnet said, the CERT volunteers had to wade through knee deep mud to get to their destinations.

The CERT members also helped deliver notices to people in the vicinity of a train derailment to let them know to stay inside (or better yet, get out of the area) while officials worked to right a tanker car containing chemicals.

“I was pretty proud of everyone, and the CERT training really proved itself,” Abnet said. “I was just amazed at how well everyone conducted themselves.”

Abnet also was amazed at the positive attitudes of the people they encountered who had suffered the effects of the flooding.

“All of thse people were classy people. They were doing everything they could to clean up themselves,” Abnet said. “All you heard was how grateful they were. ... You didn’t hear people swearing or having temper tantrums.”

One of the people the CERT members encountered was a 77-year-old woman living on her own who had floodwater in her basement, possibly contaminating her well. The woman had not called any emergency responders for help and was unaware the floodwater could have made her drinking water dangerous.

In their rounds, CERT members found that one of the biggest obstacles to the cleanup on Saturday was people had filled their Dumpsters and had no way to get them emptied and get new ones. Part of the problem with that, too, was the limited hours at the county landfill on Saturday.

Abnet saw La Crosse County Board Chairman Steve Doyle at a volunteer staging area at Southern Bluffs Elementary and let him know about the situation. Doyle got the landfill to extend its hours for the afternoon and the waste hauling companies were able to help keep the flood-stricken residents’ cleanups moving ahead.

Tonak said he was happy to be able to put his CERT training to good use.

“We did a lot for the first time out. I felt like we accomplished a lot,” said Tonak. “The people were just so happy that people were coming around to talk to them.”

CERT training session planned for fall

A free Community Emergency Response Team training course for community members to gain information and skills on how to respond in a large-scale emergency will be held at the La Crosse County Health & Human Services Building in La Crosse.

The 21-hour course will meet over seven sessions and include hands-on training in scene assessment, fire safety, emergency medical response and light search and rescue. The class also will provide information on local threats and hazards, county emergency management and incident command and terrorism.

Course meeting dates are 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25 and Nov. 1 and 8 and from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. Attendance at all classes is required for a completion certificate.

After a major disaster, first responders might not be able to immediately reach all of the community members requiring their services. The CERT program helps train people to be better prepared to respond to emergencies in their communities.

People who complete CERT training have a better understanding of the potential threats to their home, workplace and community and can take the right steps to lessen the effects of these hazards on themselves, their homes or workplace.

For more information, or to register for this CERT course, call 789-4811 or log onto and click on the “Education” tab. Registration deadline is Sept. 20.

Contact Randy Erickson at or 786-6812.

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