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Stamford to combine citizen volunteer organizations

August 5, 2018

STAMFORD — Ted Jankowski was working with the New York City Fire Department when the Twin Towers collapsed during the 9/11 attacks. In the days and weeks that followed, he saw an outpouring of volunteers drawn to lower Manhattan to help exhausted first responders trying to deal with the tragedy.

The problem was the city didn’t know if any of them could be trusted.

“You had a lot of volunteers that showed up from all over the nation,” said Jankowski, who spent 23 years with the FDNY before becoming Stamford’s director of public safety, health and welfare in 2012. “The problem is they weren’t credentialed and they weren’t organized.”

Cue MRC — the Medical Reserve Corps. Created in response to the attacks in New York, MRC organizes medical and public health professionals to serve as volunteers in case of disaster. They complement CERT — the community emergency response team — which also takes volunteers in times of disaster and trains them in a number of response skills.

“Volunteers are the backbone of emergency services,” said Jennifer Calder, the city’s director of health. “We saw nationwide how critical volunteers were to helping our city respond to a major disaster because certainly first responders become overwhelmed. A lot of this grew out of 9/11.”

Both organizations have come to Stamford within the past decade. But starting in September, the organizations will combine as the Stamford Citizen Services Corps. By doing so and certifying volunteers for both organizations, Stamford Citizen Services Corps will be eligible for more state aid and more training for a higher skilled staff of volunteers.

Stamford residents have likely dealt with CERT volunteers in a range of weather-inflicted circumstances — they could be spotted everywhere from evacuating 700 people from the South End during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 to handing out water bottles at Stamford High School’s graduation during a heat wave a few years ago.

“We have the best emergency responders in the area,” said Chris Munger, a former Marine and CIA employee who coordinates the CERT team in Stamford. “Our police are fantastic, our fire are fantastic and we have one of the best EMS groups in the state. Our job as CERT members and the MRC, in major instances where they are overworked, we step in to help them out as much as we can. We’re not there to replace them by any means.”

In addition, there will be an increased effort to recruit volunteers by certifying all members who go through the city’s Public Safety Academy. So far, the city has held two sessions with about 30 members each who learn about different emergency services in Stamford, along with some CERT curriculum.

Now, participants will have the option to be sworn in as both CERT and MRC volunteers at the end of their academy.

Residents interested in participating do no need a medical background. According to Barbara Stein, co-chairwoman of the Stamford MRC, the organization needs people to help out in a wide array of crisis tasks, whether as a greeter, a psychologist, or helping direct people during the city’s popular wintertime flu-shot clinics.

“What the MRC can do is triage the people and sign them up, register them,” said Stein, who worked in health care policy for 30 years. “People are volunteering from all different backgrounds as (clinically heavy) as physicians and nurses, but people with office skills, people with corporate skills, retired fire, police, EMTs. We need all types of people.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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