Wilson High offers training for students to practice emergency preparedness skills

CONNECTION PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Wilson High students practices putting out fires during training at the Portland Fire and Rescue's training facility.

When flames began to hiss near a downtrodden car in the spacious lot of the Portland Fire and Rescue's training facility in Parkrose, Wilson High School students first tried to drench the flame with a hose. When that didn't work, they brought out the fire extinguisher — dousing and ultimately smothering the fire.

The training session was the culminating event of Wilson High School's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which is part of the school's Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum.

The program was started in 2017 and is partially taught by Wilson High teacher Aaron Olsen. It gives students a chance to learn a variety of skills that can help prepare them for an emergency or natural disaster.

Olsen helped introduce the CTE pathway at Wilson, where students take intro to health occupations, wilderness and sports medicine and anatomy and physiology.

"Most people don't have the opportunity to do these type of things," said Wilson High student McKenna Spencer. "And so going to the facility and getting this training is special for our school in particular and all the resources they can provide is really cool."

CERT is analogous to the Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET) program, where residents in Portland receive training and form groups with neighbors to help lead disaster relief efforts.

In the Wilson program, Olsen addresses disaster preparedness for individuals and homes, and discusses the possibility of natural disasters such as a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The units are outlined by PBEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"If there was a major event, the emergency services like fire and rescue are going to be so taxed that the people that respond most to disasters are going to be your neighbors," Olsen said. "That's where NET came from, and teenagers are probably our best resources in that regard."

The training at the Portland Fire and Rescue facility focused on putting out a fire, shutting off utilities and medical triage, which means assessing which patients need medical assistance the fastest.

"It's really cool to see how much knowledge they (the fire department) have about their jobs and they can teach us how to do what they do," Wilson High student Lyla Balthazaar said.

It also covered search and rescue and cribbing, which involves extricating a person who is trapped under a large object.

"One of the first skills we learned was the patient assessment system, which we use to assess a patient's condition," Balthazaar said. "Step one is to find out how many victims there are, make sure it's safe. Two is looking, making sure they're breathing, their airway is clear. After that we treat their injuries."

During the search and rescue portion, students climbed up a large tower to rescue a dummy. Then during cribbing, they worked together to pry a large object off of a dummy.

"I think they really enjoy some of it. It's really tangible, practical, fun things," Olsen said. "Who gets to put out a fire, go up in a rescue tower during a day of school?"

Balthazaar had no prior emergency training before taking the class, but decided to sign up for the pathway because she is considering a medical career.

"I was like 'Oh that sounds fun. I really like being outdoors and I really want to learn what to do in an emergency situation,'" Balthazaar said.

Spencer has undergone training with Multnomah County Search and Rescue, but said the pathway reinforced her interest in medical fields.

"I think it opened my eyes to new careers," she said. "I don't know if I necessarily want to go in this pathway, but I think it showed me that I can do this and I'm interested in it."

Olsen said the class would not be possible without the help of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and the Portland Fire Department, and that the culminating training in particular could not be replicated elsewhere.

"We could not simulate this at school," he said. "I would never attempt to have a fire pan at school. That's what's really unique about coming out to this event — we can do cool stuff like this in a safe way."

Olsen says he would be proud to see some of his students go into fields such as emergency management or fire and rescue. But either way, he's confident that in the event of a disaster, these kids can help.

"I've seen tremendous improvement," he said. "I'm pretty confident that these kids, within reason, could act appropriately and respond to situations, which is cool. Given that it's a major event, they're going to be frightened — we all are — but I think these kids will have the skills within them (to act)."

Contact Connection reporter Corey Buchanan at 503-479-2380.

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