Organization has about 50 members
September 21, 2018 Local News
Steve Harding, Reinaldo Toro and Amy Wilson, members of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, train for disaster response with local Red Cross staff earlier this year.
A new county volunteer group will provide aid in local disasters so that police, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency responders can concentrate on the important job at hand.
Upon a recommendation by Steve Bicehouse, the county emergency services director, the county commissioners at their Wednesday meeting approved an agreement with the Pennsylvania Volunteers to provide ancillary services in the instance of a disaster.
While the volunteers, for example, would not enter a flooded house to rescue its occupants, they would set up shelter for those occupants or provide them with food or other necessities at the scene.
Bicehouse said in disasters like a flood, citizens often turn up offering to help out. While he appreciates their willingness to serve the community, Bicehouse said trained, vetted volunteers are needed.
“Unregistered volunteers happen with every disaster and can be quite a liability,” Bicehouse told the commissioners. “(The Pennsylvania Volunteers) have organized themselves and demonstrated that they are a viable organization that we can use in the event of a disaster.”
County commissioners were not unfamiliar with the group. Leslie Osche, commissioners chairman, witnessed the organization's members in action during a disaster drill at the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station.
“They did a nice job,” Osche said.
She said it would be comforting to know trained professionals are serving as volunteers in a local disaster.
“It protects the volunteers and the victims,” Osche said.
Commissioner Kevin Boozel, who has a background in emergency services, attended one of the training sessions offered by the group out of curiosity.
“I find them to be very useful, especially for emergency services,” he said.
Boozel recommends that residents who want to have a hand in helping out during a community disaster join the Pennsylvania Volunteers and attend the free training sessions the group offers.
Bicehouse stressed that the services of the Pennsylvania Volunteers must be requested by the county emergency services department, and the group cannot deploy itself.
He said the county's individual municipalities would be the entities most often calling on the group for services when a disaster strikes.
Rich Wilson, vice president of volunteer operations for the Pennsylvania Volunteers, said the group provides traffic control, search and rescue dogs, shelter teams for those displaced by a disaster, damage assessment, disaster preparedness training, Community Emergency Response Team volunteers, disaster information materials for the blind and a host of other disaster support services.
“We are the trained volunteers,” Wilson said.
The group has about 50 members who meet at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the American Legion Post 778 in Lyndora. A few are retired firefighters, policemen or pastors.
“But it can be anybody who's interested in helping and being part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Wilson said.
He said the meetings often include free training in various services the group provides, and members can pick and choose what they want to train in and how much time they spend on the group's work.
All members are required to get two government clearances and attend online training by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
More information and membership applications are available at www.pavolunteers.org.