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In a wheelchair, deaf? No problem. People with disabilities learning emergency response training

BELLEVUE, Wash. – The City of Bellevue, along with other agencies, held an Accessible Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training designed for assisting people with disabilities during emergencies.

On Sunday, an emergency drill was held outdoors putting the training into practice with mock situations involving vulnerable populations.

It looks like a real disaster, people screaming for help, bodies trapped under beds and first responders in hallways, but this disaster drill is helping train people with all abilities that they can help in emergencies.

“You don’t care if you’re rescued by someone in a wheelchair, you just care if you’re rescued. So, everyone whether you’re hard of hearing or low vision, everyone can learn basic skills like putting out a fire with a fire extinguisher, some light search and rescue and triage of someone who is injured,” said Curry Mayer, emergency manager with the City of Bellevue.

Curry says they do CERT trainings annually, but this is the first year they expanded to tailor a few days specifically to people with disabilities.

“It's really empowering,” said Mayer.

Dozens of people took part in learning skills, all with a wide range of abilities. Carol Butterfield and her training partner Karen worked together to take care of a mock burn victim. Karen is deaf and Carol does not understand sign language. Both of them worked to communicate and assist the person in need.

“The deaf community actually brings in skills that we don’t have. They tend to be better about communication, they are alert to some things that we are sometimes not. They can be very helpful about things that are slipping our mind,” said Butterfield.

Butterfield added one important thing she noted was the masks she was wearing made it impossible for Karen to read her lips. She suggested updating gear to transparent masks.

Firefighters taught this group the basics of putting out small fires and first responders also tested new equipment like drones that can airlift up to three pounds of supplies and drop them to a person in need who can survive with emergency supplies like a walkie-talkie, feminine hygiene products, flashlight, heated blankets and a small amount of water before first responders can reach them.

Curry says everyone has to prepared to last for two weeks before help arrives. She says this training adds the number of people who can help when disaster strikes.