CERT Volunteers on the Front Lines

With last weekend’s high fire risk weather conditions, trained volunteers were asked for the first time to take a “fire watch” shift at one of Laguna Beach’s main entry points into the coastal wilderness park.

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From left, CERT team members John Kountz and Sarah Jane McKinney, beach patrol officers Randy King and Jim Rosen, and CERT team member Matt Lawson. Photo by John Falk.

About 50 people entered the park or nearby trailhead during the midday, four-hour shift at Alta Laguna Park, said participant Matt Lawson, who with fellow Civilian Emergency Response Team volunteer Sarah-Jane McKinney handed out info to hikers and bikers, discouraged smoking in the open space and used high-powered binoculars to eye the canyon road below.

The deployment was the first for CERT members, said police Capt. Darin Lenyi, who believes their presence serves as a deterrent to foolish activity, such as sparklers set off recently by kids in a trash can at the park. Moreover, having eyes sweeping the hillsides will spot telltale smoke sooner and allow a quicker response to trouble, Lenyi said.

“We have to do something; there’s too much at risk,” he said.

And 15 minutes before the volunteers were due to leave, several hikers leaving the park pointed out a major smoke column visible to the south, said Lawson, who called in the observation to Laguna’s Emergency Dispatch. It turned out to be a fire at Camp Pendleton, not an immediate threat here.

Earlier, McKinney had responded to a report of women in apparent distress on the trail, Lawson said. She knew the woman as a neighbor, provided water and escorted her and her husband back to their vehicle.

“Overall, it was a very rewarding way to spend a few hours and I would strongly encourage Laguna Beach residents who are interested in participating in our local CERT program to contact the city’s newly appointed preparedness coordinator Jordan Villwock,” Lawson said.

Villwock can be reached at j[email protected].



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