By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DOVER-FOXCROFT - County officials across the state are hoping residents will join forces to provide extra sets of hands, eyes and ears to emergency responders during disasters. As in any disaster, there are those who are willing to help but are unsure of just what to do. Now there is an organized effort under way throughout the state to give these volunteers training and education that will be useful during emergency situations
Assisted by federal funds, counties are organizing Community Emergency Response Teams. These volunteer teams will be able to give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims and help American Red Cross efforts
"I think it can be very important because it can be a flexible asset depending upon what a particular area or community needs to support their emergency responders," Lynette Miller, spokesman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday
About 25 people representing the 16 counties participated in train-the-trainer programs in January in Rockland. These trainers now are seeking volunteers in each of their counties to be trained in basic disaster response skills such as first aid, search and rescue, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Piscataquis County, Robert Wilson, the emergency management agency director, is organizing local efforts with Brian Mullis, EMS director at Mayo Regional Hospital. Mullis, who attended the facilitator program, will be the local instructor for a 25-hour course to be offered to Piscataquis County volunteers this fall.
"It looks like a program with some real meat to it," Mullis said. To get the word out that volunteers are needed, Mullis said he plans to speak to civic and community organizations about the project. He is looking for people not currently involved as firefighters, emergency response personnel and police, because these individuals are stretched very thin when disasters such as the 1987 flood and the ice storm of 1998 occur. Mullis said there is no age barrier for volunteers; they can be high school students, senior citizens or people with disabilities
"I think it will really improve our effectiveness to operate in a natural disaster," Mullis said of the team
Wilson said a local Community Emergency Response Council must be developed before the formation of a team. The current Local Emergency Planning Committee likely will play this role because there are so few people to draw from in a sparsely populated county, he said.
Ham radio operators in the county already have informed Wilson that they were willing to play a role in any disaster-related activities
Those interested in volunteering for the council or the team should contact their county emergency management agency.
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