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CERTifiable

Burke neighborhood trains for emergency response.

If Canterbury Woods residents are feeling particularly safe, it's because they have a CERT, and it is one of a kind.

The acronym stands for Community Emergency Response Team, and refers to a civilian group trained to mobilize and take care of communities during emergencies until firefighters or police arrive. Canterbury Woods' CERT is the first civic association-based team in the county, said Colin Campbell, Canterbury Woods resident and CERT team leader.

"The goal is to have these people trained so that if there is a catastrophic event, whether a national disaster or what-have-you, that they can take care of their community if fire and rescue and the police can’t get there," said Debbie Powers, who works for CERT coordinator Bob Meiser in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

In the case of a large-scale disaster, firefighters would most likely be at the scene of the most destruction, said Pam Reinkober, Canterbury Woods CERT member along with husband Tom.

"The idea is that we're not supposed to replace those guys, but to stand in for awhile," said Tom Reinkober.

President of the Canterbury Woods Civic Association, Tom Reinkober first began thinking about organizing a team of neighbors prepared for an emergency after Sept. 11, 2001.

He received a good response. "I started calling people, and pretty soon, I had 25," said Tom Reinkober.

Canterbury Woods CERT members attended training sessions at the fire department's facility on Ox Road, and by Sunday, Oct. 23, were ready to kick the program into gear.

The first neighborhood-wide exercise didn't involve CPR or first aid, but it was a daunting one: CERT members had to deliver a packet with information about the program to every one of the 517 houses in the Canterbury Woods neighborhood, which is located north of Braddock Road in the Burke area. They also had to gather information about special needs and resources, and make sure their radios worked.

As it turned out, a few of the radios didn't have a wide enough range to cover such a large community, but it is better to know that now than in an emergency situation, said Campbell.

"If something ever happened, I know we've got 25 people who could actually do something," said Tom Reinkober. "They know how to use the radios, how to act as incident commanders." CERT members have to be prepared to do anything from organize a medical response team to cutting falling trees to performing CPR.

"WE'RE READY to take the hill, instead of worrying about how to turn off the gas," said Tom Reinkober.

Canterbury Woods CERT members bring diverse backgrounds to the team, he said. Like Reinkober, who is a retired Army colonel, many CERT members are ex-military. The group also includes nurses and lawyers, he said, and all were willing to go through the initial 30 hours of training and yearly re-training.

"That's the main thing," said Tom Reinkober. "You can do it once, but whether you keep it up is another matter."

The training was no small feat either, said Pam Reinkober. Canterbury Woods team members trained with others from George Mason University and the Town of Herndon, and exercises included practicing rescue techniques on dummies and live volunteers. This sometimes involved hauling several hundred pounds of dead weight down flights of stairs, she said.

"That I think was a challenge, even for the men," said Pam Reinkober. "But you work together."

CERT members also had to learn search and rescue, how to dress wounds, and how to pull people out of a mock train crash, said CERT member Paul Wenner.

"I tell you, it's amazing," said Wenner. "It's really, really hard. It's harder than it looks."

But members of the Canterbury Woods community are close and ready to help each other out, said John Boaz. "A lot of people get involved with local stuff," he said.

Boaz, a member of the Fairfax Harley Owners Group, a charitable organization, used his motorcycle to deliver messages and supplies between CERT members.

"It's a good thing," he said of the CERT program. "We might need it."