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DISASTER TRAINEES LEARN TO HELP COMMUNITIES : TEAM VOLUNTEERS WILL BE ON CALL TO USE FIRST-AID, PREPAREDNESS SKILLS IN EMERGENCIES.

Byline: Gloria Gonzales Daily News Staff Writer

When Mike Sherick looks at the manufacturing equipment in his workplace, he sees lucrative machines punching out computer chips, but he also sees machines capable of spewing noxious fumes and spilling poisonous fluids.

``I work around hazardous gases and liquids,'' said Sherick, who works for a Chatsworth semiconductor manufacturer. ``I want to know how to handle it if there's an earthquake and this equipment starts leaking.''

The 27 Conejo Valley residents who began training for the city's Disaster Assistance Response Team Thursday night all share Sherick's visionary trait. Each can clearly imagine homes, schools, businesses and buildings after a natural disaster. And because most lived through the Northridge Quake, they see blazing broken gas mains, crumpled buildings and collapsed overpasses.

``I work in a school in Oxnard,'' worried one trainee. ``And I can tell you that we're not prepared for an earthquake. I'm going to take what I learn back with me.''

The 27 men and women in the six-week course will learn everything from basic first aid to disaster triage - prioritizing the wounded based on the seriousness of their injuries.

They are nurses, teachers, businessmen and businesswomen, contractors and students.

One contractor worked for a full year after the Northridge Quake rebuilding and repairing damaged structures. One insurance industry executive spent 18 months reviewing quake damage claims. A former Navy pilot works in a Camarillo solvent recovery facility and worried about spills.

One woman, a single mother, worried about her children.

``It's just me now, so I figure I better know what to do in an emergency,'' she said.

If all 27 complete the course and join the team, it will be close to its optimum number of 60, according to Ron Weinstock, a Thousand Oaks businessman and chairman of DART.

``We could have 100 people on the team and if there's a disaster, we would need them all,'' Weinstock said. ``We're cross-trained in a number of different areas, and we do everything from man phones to provide emergency first aid.''

After training, DART members are issued pagers and are called when needed. Team members might be called out from two to six times per month, depending on how busy the season.

``We were some of the first people on the scene at La Conchita,'' Weinstock said, referring to the Ventura mudslide that destroyed nine homes. ``We helped set up the incident command center. We also helped at the Malibu fires. Recently, we've helped on missing children and adult searches, including several searches involving older people with Alzheimer's disease.''

Weinstock is most proud of the group's efforts against arson. Last summer, a series of fires plagued Thousand Oaks.

``That was very satisfying because we started the arson watch, and the fires stopped completely,'' he said. ``It was nice to get such clear results.''

Because of these efforts, emergency personnel have come to rely on and respect DART workers.

``They are a constant help to us,'' said Ventura County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike LaPlante. ``We rely on them for scene security, surveying neighborhoods for damages and the injured and providing first aid.

``But we're looking even further down the line at DART groups ensuring self-sufficiency in their own communities after natural disasters.''

Immediately after a natural disaster, team members are trained to check on their family first and their neighborhood second before reporting to fire or police stations.

``And within communities, this kind of self-sufficiency will have to be the norm after a major quake,'' LaPlante said, ``because it will likely be close to 72 hours before emergency personnel will come to help.''

The new trainees said Thursday that they looked forward to providing help in their communities. Several said they worried that without training, they might hinder rather than help emergency relief efforts.

``The Northridge Quake really brought home to me how unprepared I was for any disaster,'' said Jaques Ortiz, a 34-year-old real estate manager and father. ``I want this training so I can be an asset rather than a liability during an emergency.''

The image in Ortiz's mind when he thinks of disasters is a crumpled Antelope Valley Freeway overpass after the Northridge Quake.

``My wife and I drove back from Vegas hours before the quake, and drove over the same freeway that collapsed.''

Any area resident can train for the Disaster Assistance Response Team. Team members complete a rigorous six-week course which culminates in a daylong mock emergency.

DART members learn emergency preparedness skills they can use whether they are at work or home when disaster strikes. The training emphasizes helping those in the immediate vicinity or neighborhood before reporting to assist emergency personnel.

The course includes units on fire suppression, disaster medical aid, triage and patient assessment, team organization, disaster psychology, and search and rescue.

DART volunteers will be especially important in Southern California neighborhoods in the event of a large earthquake, according to Capt. Bill Breuklander, a DART instructor. Breuklander, a fire captain at Station 42 in Moorpark, warns that neighborhoods will likely have to fend for themselves during the first few days after the Big One.

Space is still available in the current DART training class. The class is free and meets the next five Thursday nights from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Police Department, 2101 E. Olsen Road, and on Saturday, May 10, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call Ron Weinstock at (805) 373-1277.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) Joe Silverstein, left, Ron Weinstock, Vince Vlasic and Jim Olson serve on the Thousand Oaks Disaster Assistance Response Team.

(2) Vince Vlasic straps on his chest harness that carries his radio, freeing up his hands to handle other chores in emergencies.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 6, 1997
Words:968
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