It could happen.
A light aircraft could take off from Centennial Airport heading toward Chatfield Reservoir, only to be taken out by a tornado right above downtown Littleton. Theoretically, the twister could send the plane careening into Bradford Auto Body and sweep away the cockpit – and the pilot – to parts unknown. It’s conceivable that the smoking hulk of the burning plane could fall right into the garage on a Saturday morning, when there might be employees working and children touring the shop.
One can also imagine a scenario in which first responders are so busy dealing with havoc wreaked other places by the tornado that it takes them hours to reach the victims on Main Street, many scorched by the fire, some missing limbs.
It could happen, but thankfully it didn’t on March 31. But if it did, the 29 Community Emergency Response Team members would have been heroes.
CERT trainees spent the first three Saturdays in March learning to prepare for realistic hazards and practicing skills such as fire safety, search and rescue, team organization and first aid. The training culminated in the March 31 disaster drill at Bradford – complete with the rear end of a small plane on loan from Centennial Airport.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” Terry McElhaney said after his team successfully rescued four of the 19 volunteer “victims.” “The most valuable thing I learned was not to lose your cool. You have the ability to help as long as you keep your head.”
Red Cross volunteer Bill Tolbert agreed. He said CERT training teaches that there’s a balance between taking time to make a plan and moving quickly enough to avoid “analysis paralysis.”
As he watched a team slide a cardboard box under a victim so they could drag her to safety, CERT organizer Mickey Kemp said he was impressed by this year’s class.
“This is good. They’re all working together,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody use cardboard before. They’re thinking, and that’s what we want them to do. Every year when we do this, I learn more from the students.”
Matt Burgund was a natural as the public-information officer, answering the pesky reporter with comments like “That is unknown at this time” and “We cannot confirm or deny that information.” A pastor at Englewood Assembly Church, Burgund said he’s a big proponent of citizens being able to step up in an emergency.
“It’s important to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem,” he said.
Tolbert said he’s seen an uptick in interest about emergency preparedness in light of how close to home the Lower North Fork Fire burned.
“The real disasters help temper your resolve to be prepared,” he said.
For more information on CERT, call 303-734-8224.