Community emergency response teams

Friday July 19, 2013

While some communities in Vermont are fortunate enough to have full-time paid fire and police departments, in a small state like ours, most emergency response is carried out by volunteers. The most obvious examples are volunteer fire companies and Emergency Medical Services that protect most towns.

However, there are a number of other opportunities for citizens to give back to their communities and assist emergency organizations in their work.

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) are organizations that provide support to emergency responders -- allowing fire, rescue, police and others to maximize manpower and resources. They do this by performing tasks like traffic control, communications and other functions that have traditionally been carried out by firefighters and police. This frees up those responders to tend to their more critical functions.

The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security coordinates the CERT program, and teams have been and continue to be formed in counties around Vermont. DEMHS works in partnership with the state and local public safety agencies and the community to produce a pool of citizens trained in disaster preparedness and response to provide leadership and coordination during an emergency and for immediate assistance to victims.

DEMHS CERT members also assist with non-emergency projects to provide information and a safe environment for the communities within the State of Vermont. CERT teams distribute flyers with emergency information and even operate booths at large public events to educate the public and recruit new members.

Since CERT is dependent upon volunteers to operate, not all counties have a team. Their existence is based solely on the willingness of an individual or group to take the lead and work with DEMHS to operate. Money is available for training and other necessities so there is no money out of pocket to take part.

One county that is well represented by CERT is Windham County. The county is highly organized and broken up into two divisions -- 19 new volunteer members were officially welcomed to the CERT in Windham County this year alone. The team was recently honored with a plaque from the town of Wilmington and the Mount Snow Chamber of Commerce thanking members for their years of assistance to the county. The Windham County CERT Team Leader John Borichevsky has also been honored as the CERT member of the year by DEMHS.

The state's 179 active CERT volunteers logged 1,600 volunteer hours in 2012 not only at emergency scenes, but by assisting communities with traffic control at major events and other tasks that help their towns' special events.

Despite that success the demand for CERT volunteers is still great and is an outlet for public service, despite your previous training or expertise. Training lasts two days and the skills you gain stay with you for a lifetime.

Emergency response is dependent upon people from all walks of life with all skill sets and there is an opportunity for everyone. CERT teams provide one of those opportunities and all are welcome to take part.

To volunteer for a CERT team, please contact Zach Borst at VT Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security at or by calling 800-347-0488. Emergency responders can call the same number to request a team for any incident.

For more information on the Windham County CERT -- or to volunteer for that team contact John Borichevsky at

Zach Borst is the state CERT Coordinator at the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He began his emergency response career in high school as a trainee at the Brattleboro Fire Department. He has also served as a firefighter in Putney for more than seven years.


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