Former guardsman to lead B.P.C. emergency team

By Jane Flanagan

They are looking for a few good men and women.

A Certified Emergency Response Team is being organized by the Battery Park City Neighbors and Parents Association and they need volunteers. Leading the effort is Sidney Baumgarten, a Gateway Plaza resident and former National Guard solider. The team will learn a variety of emergency response techniques. The goal is to for every building in Battery Park City to have certified residents.

“The idea came to me after the blackout last July,” said Baumgarten who was on duty in Peekskill at the time. His commander, fearing it was another terrorist attack, ordered Baumgarten to Lower Manhattan. Although it was only a blackout, Baumgarten’s neighbors were, nonetheless, relieved to see a soldier.

“I jumped out of the car in front of my building at Gateway and a lady came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you’re here.’ But, I thought, ‘what can I do?” said Baumgarten to the laughter of the dozen or so people who assembled for the CERT organizational meeting last week in Battery Park City.

Soon, however, Baumgarten, 69, began planning what he could do. He hooked up with a friend at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who was involved with CERT programs, which have become more popular since 9/11. A seven part series, CERT is geared toward disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and fires.

“In a fire, we teach you when not to take that next step forward that will kill you,” said Peter Morici, an evidence specialist with the New York Police Department, who is volunteering with the program.

The course also teaches medical triage — how to assist the injured until rescue personnel arrive. In any kind of disaster or major emergency, police, fire and rescue teams may be occupied elsewhere, making interim assistance critical, said Morici. The course also covers psychological techniques to cope with the crises and to help others do so as well.

FEMA will fully fund the effort – including the 21-hour training course for every participant. The Battery Park City Authority is fully behind the effort, said Anthony Notaro, who chairs Community Board 1’s Battery Park City committee, and who attended the meeting. The authority has pledged to provide communication equipment for all volunteers and to work with the team. Every residential building manager is also on board, said Notaro, who noted that the apartment buildings do not have staff trained in emergency procedures.

“They are waiting for us to take the lead and will fully support it,” he said.

Coordinated emergency response is a welcome idea to Marilyn Gaull, a New York University professor who lives on Albany St. She said she will never forget the confusion compounding her fear at her building on Sept. 11.

“We didn’t know what we could or should do,” said Gaull, speaking after the meeting. “Everyone was pushed up to the wall out there,” she said, gesturing toward the promenade. “We had nowhere to go.”

Elderly people and those with disabilities would be identified by CERT members ahead of time for special attention in an emergency. Also, how to effectively evacuate highrise buildings will be covered.

If the Battery Park City group gets under way soon it would be the first CERT team in Manhattan, said Baumgarten.

“We could be the prototype for the city,” he said, noting that Battery Park is a particularly good neighborhood for a pilot project because of its clearly defined boundaries.

Independence Plaza in Tribeca is also planning to start a team, he said.

Many volunteers are needed, according to Baumgarten, who said he’d love to see some retired police, fire and military personnel sign up. But anyone in relatively good physical condition, who wants to help is welcome, and all sorts of jobs need to filled, including clerical, he said.

But even people who consider themselves not very strong will be able to do some surprisingly heavy lifting, according to Morici, the volunteer cop. He will teach people how to lift a 20,000-pound slab of concrete with a crowbar.

“You would not believe how easy it is,” he said.

According to Baumgarten the group is looking not just for a few, but many people to volunteer. For more information on volunteering for CERT and registering for the 21-hour, 7-session course contact Baumgarten at: 212-775-0190.


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