ROCHESTER — A major disaster could strike at any time, and if it does, the city of Rochester will hopefully be ahead of the game.
“Following a major disaster, the first responders who are expected to provide medical services in emergencies, police and fire, will be overcome with calls. If it’s an ice storm or a large tornado that comes through, before you know it, we will be overwhelmed by the size of the event,” said Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik. “We want to have people who are ready to help step in, to do some of the simpler items or some of the nontechnical things. The most important step is to have the community prepared for such an event.”
Earlier this year, 40 people in the Rochester area volunteered for the city’s new Community Emergency Response Team, which supports first responders in the event of an emergency if they were unable to meet the demand for fire and medical services.
“This small group of 40 people is very eager, excited and interested in long-term volunteer activities here within the city, not just necessarily volunteering when things go wrong,” Cieslik said.
Now the city is taking it one step further, forming a Volunteer Based Community Service Center under the direction of Cieslik, Rochester Fire Department Lt. Greg Collins, and Rochester residents Kent Stiles and Dennis Siemet.
The goal of the service center, according to Cieslik, is to serve the community as a central place that would aid in mobilizing and organizing Rochester community members who want to serve their community in an emergency, as well as in a variety of other ways.
The center, which will initially be housed at the Rochester Fire Station, will serve as a resource of trained and talented volunteers to assist in city activities and groups. Organizers are currently recruiting community service volunteers — who will undergo background checks and training — and plan to identify their occupations and any key skills they might have to assist with future efforts.
“We feel that there is a large untapped resource here in Rochester and the surrounding areas that we can harness and bring together to not only prepare in the event of an emergency, but to support other organizations and volunteer groups here within the city. And all that equals one of the best places to live in America, and that’s what Rochester is,” Cieslik said. “We’re looking for probably somewhere between 40 and 80 people. We think that’s manageable from a training aspect and also to keep them interested.”
Those who volunteer through the center will begin by assisting the CERT team in helping the community prepare for an emergency as part of the city’s Emergency Response Plan.
“Making sure that our subdivisions, our neighborhoods and our associations within the city have all of the resources and preparation before the emergency is what we think is key,” Cieslik said.
Since the number of emergencies in the city is quite limited, organizers plan to keep the community service volunteers engaged by helping with various other community activities and groups.
“The worst thing about volunteering is not having anything to do. … We need to be able to get them trained and keep them engaged,” Cieslik added.
In the months ahead, organizers also plan to launch a website for the center that will be filled with information to help the community prepare for an emergency.
“It will be a way that people can get tips from small articles, sign up to be a part of the center, and it will be a place where we have calendars and information that can be shared with the community and also keep volunteers active,” Cieslik noted.
Rochester City Council members shared their support for the center during their Sept. 24 meeting.
“I like the approach and I appreciate the community’s hard work in putting this together. Right now is the time to plan, when there isn’t an emergency at hand,” Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Cuthbertson said.
Council member Cathy Daldin said she thinks the center is an “excellent idea.”
“I do have lot of people who say they want to volunteer, but they just don’t know how to do it, so I think this is a great way,” she said.
Council member Ben Giovanelli said the community has an “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to volunteers.
“I continue to be amazed. It’s great how we’ve got each other’s back in this community,” he added.
For more information about volunteering to help organize and operate the new Volunteer Based Community Service Center, contact Stiles at (248) 652-4031 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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