Fire Chief Hopes to Revive Citizens Emergency Response Team

Derry Fire Chief Michael Gagnon is hoping to take advantage of the civilian talent in his community.

In his proposed 2017 budget, Gagnon has included funding to revive the town’s CERT. The group, a Citizens Emergency Response Team, assists in non-medical ways during disasters and other emergencies.

For example, Gagnon said, CERT members were integral in the 2008 ice storm, during significant windstorms, and during hurricanes. They do everything from keeping people away from downed wires to filling sandbags, he said.

The team numbered about 10 people, he said. But members have resigned or drifted away, and his department has been busy with other issues and hasn’t spent time developing the civilian team.

Gagnon would like to see that group restored, with a portion of his 2017 overtime line dedicated to staff members rebuilding the team.

“We’ll have a recruiting campaign, but only after we’ve organized our people in-house,” he said.

When the team is reestablished, one thing they probably won’t do is serve coffee, Gagnon said, adding, “The Red Cross and Salvation Army have that covered.”

ALERT – A Londonderry Emergency Response Team – is Londonderry’s version of a citizen response team and has been a boon to that neighboring town, Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said.

ALERT is very active, according to O’Brien. In the past three years, he’s watched the team of 30-plus trained civilians respond to a number of assignments.

O’Brien said, “I used to have mixed feelings about citizen response teams.” But the more he dealt with the Londonderry group, the more he became convinced of their value, he said.

While there haven’t been any major, town-crippling disasters in O’Brien’s tenure as chief, he said ALERT helps out with mundane but necessary matters such as directing traffic at elections.

Londonderry Fire Battalion Chief Fred Heinrich, the department’s liaison to ALERT, said the group came into being around 2003-04 in response to the search for a missing child. While the child did not survive, the group found a purpose and stayed. There are now 30-plus members, Heinrich said.

“We are always looking for new members,” he said.

ALERT is mobilized during ice storms and hurricanes, and is solely responsible for the emergency shelter at Londonderry High School. “They run the shelter,” he said. “We’re there if they need us.” They do traffic control, and those certified by Fish and Game assist with cutting down trees.

And they fulfill their original goal of search and rescue, looking for people lost in the Musquash Conservation Area or other large, wild places. They are trained by Fish and Game, Heinrich said.

Their most recent project has been establishing a radio station in Fire Station 2, Heinrich said. The Fire Department has a radio line in the north end of town, courtesy of the Londonderry School District, but didn’t have one in the south end. Another recent program has had a group of people trained in “ham” or amateur radio, in order to communicate with the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

ALERT runs its own training programs, calling upon Fish and Game or the Fire Department when a particular skill set is needed. Several ALERT members are CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) instructors, according to Heinrich.

And they all have their own niche, Heinrich added. “Some are radio people, some are shelter people.”

“They are phenomenal,” O’Brien said.