Hurricane Irene and Storm Alfred sent Monroe's emergency personnel scrambling to set up two temporary shelters, while removing trees and debris from roadways and responding to basement flooding and medical calls.
David York, the town's Emergency Management director, said the two major storms showed the need for trained citizen volunteers to provide assistance.
"Our real need in Monroe was assistance with the shelters," York said, adding they need to be secure and open 24/7.
Police Chief John Salvatore agreed, saying, "That was our biggest gap during the storms."
Monroe Emergency Management decided to form the town's first ever Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Several other towns have their own CERT team, a unit of highly trained volunteers.
York said having CERT members staffing emergency shelters grants the town liability protection through the Division of Emergency Management & Homeland Security. Monroe used the senior center and Edith Wheeler Memorial Library at the height of the storms.
Ernie Heidelberg, president of Westport CERT, served as a trainer, along with Fire Marshall Bill Davin, Police Lt. Brian McCauley, Marge Brenna of the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service, and EMS Chief Don Smith.
Twenty volunteers attended courses in the EMS Training Center at Chalk Hill for two months. York said they learned things like basic first aid, how to assist with triage, mass casualty assistance and how to use fire extinguishers. A graduation ceremony was held for them in the community room of Edith Wheeler Memorial Library on Thursday night.
First Selectman Steve Vavrek gave the greeting during the ceremony, which was attended by CERT members and their families. He thanked them for everything they've learned and praised Barbara Yeager, director of both the Monroe Senior Center and Social Services. Yeager worked overtime keeping the senior center open as an emergency shelter during both of the major storms.
While he expressed his hope that Monroe will never need to call upon its CERT team to handle a major emergency, Vavrek added, "Because of the training you've gone through, you can really help us by being a part of that, so I do commend you all."
Police Capt. Michael Flick, who serves as the town's Deputy Emergency Management director, has been extremely supportive of the effort to form the town's first CERT team, but could not make the graduation.
York administered the loyalty oath and Heidelberg presented the CERT Certificates to each graduate. There was also a presentation of CERT backpacks and vests.
The graduating class includes: