Morro Bay training offers civilians preparation for a disaster

After 9/11, President George W. Bush realized the need for a uniform national emergency plan; it was a need fully embraced by Morro Bay fire Chief Steve Knuckles.

“I grew up in Atascadero, graduated from Cal Poly and got lucky to get on full-time with the fire department,” Knuckles said. “When I came to Morro Bay 15 years ago as a captain and paramedic, I was asked to manage the emergency plan. I got hooked.

“Today when I’m called to an emergency like the Rim Fire in Yosemite where 8,100 firefighters were on the job, we know exactly what is expected to get the job done.”

Knuckles serves on the California Interagency Incident Management Team. He creates the incident action plans used by strike team leaders in local, state and national emergencies.

He also is committed to a joint effort by the Fire Chiefs Association of San Luis Obispo County and the county Sheriff’s Advisory Council to “standardize community emergency plans while understanding each community has unique needs.”

“We intend to energize the Estero Bay Community Emergency Response Training Program,” Knuckles said. “The Kobe earthquake taught us more people die due to exposure. During the Northridge quake, neighbors looked after each other. In the Paso Robles quake, I knew to take care of my family first, check on my neighbors next, then I was prepared to go to work for our communities.”

In early 2012, first responders, school personnel and public service agencies combined efforts to create local teams to respond to emergencies.

“We train for emergency response every two months,” Knuckles said. “Last month, we trained on new technology that allows us instantaneous information for emergency action planning.”

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training will be offered at the Morro Bay Fire Department on Feb. 11, 13, 18, 20 and 25. Preregistration and a $20 materials fee are required. Call 772-6242 for details.

Completing five evening sessions qualifies team members. However, Knuckles said, “If you don’t want to be a team member, the training is valuable for community action in emergency situations.”

According to CERT fliers, “CERT is a 20-hour ‘hands-on’ course that teaches individuals to be better prepared in the event of a major disaster … You will learn how and when to turn off your utilities, firefighting … medical skills … hazardous materials and terrorism awareness, light search and rescue techniques and, most importantly, you’ll learn self-reliance.”

And Knuckles will have confidence that he has more trained citizens to be available to help their neighbors when disaster occurs.

In Estero Bay, “We’re somewhat of an island, but we can train others to help our neighbors.”

Judy Salamacha’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach her at judysalamacha@gmail.com or 801-1422.