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Mark Simmons, left, and Ray Hughes attend to a mock victim during a previous CERT class session. (Contributed photo)
by Whitney Crouch

Over the past five years, Ray Hughes has helped close to 80 people gain their nationally recognized Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification. 
“We’re teaching people to help themselves and their neighbors in times of need,” explained Hughes, Gilmer County CERT director, as he announced the beginning of another round of classes for the emergency readiness program. 
“The fire department just gets overwhelmed sometimes,” he went on to observe, referring to some of the recent natural disasters including tornadoes, flooding and ice storms, which have swept across Gilmer County. “(CERT training allows) people to help until we can get to them.”
Starting Tuesday, March 19, Gilmer County residents will have the opportunity to take part in a seven-week CERT training course. Offered as an offshoot of Gilmer Fire and Rescue, classes will begin at 6 p.m., each consecutive Tuesday inside Coosawattee River Resort in the fireplace room at the property owners’ association building. 

The evening training sessions are designed to equip members of the community with the knowledge and skills needed to assist their neighbors during a natural disaster or other event when professional responders are not immediately available.
During the CERT training, participants will complete a variety of hands-on lessons that show them how to respond in aftermath of such emergency situations as a terrorist attack, flood and car accident. Discussions will focus on topics such as developing decision-making skills, disaster psychology and team organization, rescuer safety, light search and rescue operations, first aid and disaster preparedness. 
“(The course) gets people involved a bit more in the community and makes them comfortable helping out,” Hughes stated. “They have added confidence … because we teach them how to (provide assistance and render aid) the right way.”
“We take people who have no background whatsoever,” he continued, emphasizing there are ways people of any level of skill or physical fitness can lend a hand in emergency situations. “We always train from the ground up.” 
He went on to recommend that interested individuals visit for more information about the CERT program and the topics it covers. 
After achieving certification, individuals can also attend more in-depth monthly training sessions for local CERT participants. 
The cost for the CERT course is $25 per person, which includes a student manual and a backpack filled with gear. 
Hughes also teaches an American Heart Association CPR course the third Saturday of every month at fire station 14 located 2.3 miles out Hwy. 282. Classes begin at 9 a.m., and continue until around noon. 
CERT participants wishing to become CPR qualified will receive $10 off the $25 CPR course fee.
Individuals interested in participating in the upcoming CERT class series or becoming CPR certified should contact Hughes at (706) 635-8249 or

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