City now seeking emergency additional response volunteers

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Community Emergency Response Team members Dennis Kotlarek (left), Bret Kostyu, Jerry Lee Williams and Herman Abila discuss parking lot traffic control assignments during the Oct. 21 community food pantry distribution in Melvindale.

Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE – The city is looking for a few good men – and women – volunteers to serve on its Community Emergency Response Team, and Downriver adults of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

The nationwide CERT program is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In addition to Melvindale, there are CERT teams in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Detroit and 11 other Michigan cities.

“Any disaster that happens, you have CERT programs … that are qualified (to assist) that police or fire figure,” said Melvindale volunteer Cmdr. Jerry Lee Williams. “They are qualified to assist them, and that’s all they do.”

Volunteers can come from other cities, he said, teams’ duties aren’t confined to their own community boundaries.

“If a natural disaster does happen in this city or a neighboring city, we need to be available,” Williams said. “We need to be ready to get our bags, which should be in our cars, and ready to go to assist any neighborhood.”

He carries a bag in the trunk of his car that includes a medical kit, triage indicator tapes, duct tape, house marking pens, special gear, a helmet, gloves and protective eye wear. Williams was a CERT team member three years ago when it responded to a major chemical spill at a local plating company in the city.

“We dropped everything … to assist,” he said. “But you can’t do it with just five or six members. You’ve got to try to build it back up to 25 to 30 people.”

Current active team members number a dozen or more. CERT volunteers are trained to help nearby communities during emergencies and disasters that can overwhelm local authorities.

Before state or federal authorities can reach a disaster site, trained local CERT volunteers can make practical, informed decisions to help their family, friends and neighbors stay safe while waiting for official help. They also help out at community events like parades, festivals and other large events.

CERT volunteers patrol neighborhoods the night before Halloween to help deter crime. They also work closely with the Police Department to perform crowd control at community events.

Team members often receive compliments for the work they do keeping people safe in parking lots during community events. They also reunite lost children with parents at large gatherings.

Williams and fellow CERT Cmdr. Gary Stover would like to see at least 30 new applicants. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and willing to take at least 20 hours of training to become certified as a CERT member.

Team members say potential volunteers should not worry that their level of physical fitness might exclude them, because many types of volunteers can be used in search-and-rescue activities.

Bret Kostyu of Melvindale used to be a firefighter and emergency medical technician before injuring his back while assisting a “very large patient.”

“I was looking for a way I could still serve the community and still volunteer,” he said. “I found out about CERT and I said, ‘This is great.’”

Volunteer Herman Abilia of Melvindale, a communications sergeant in the military for 13 years who is retired on disability, finds it a natural extension of the type of work he had done during his service. He has been with CERT for about three years and likes being in contact with other people.

“I like communicating with people, and I guess I’ve always done that,” Abilia said. “It’s a good thing if you want to get involved. It’s one of those things that you could get called up at any time. If you’re called upon, there’s a reason for it. They wouldn’t call you unless they needed you.”

Abilia believes CERT is a good fit for people who are willing to assume responsibility, who like being around people and who can work well with authorities.

Alice Votry joined CERT because she likes volunteering and making sure people are safe at public events, like the community food pantry Oct. 21 at New Hope United Methodist Church, 3401 Oakwood Blvd. in Melvindale, where she worked in the parking lot.

“You have to be willing and committed and wanting to help out,” said Dennis Kotlarek of Taylor about his reasons for volunteering. “If you’re not willing to commit to something, to CERT, then I wouldn’t suggest it.”

He was there for the chemical spill.

“We had to evacuate everybody,” Kotlarek said. “It was busy. I liked it because I got to help other people.”

CERT member Susan Votry volunteers because she enjoys it, and would like to see more women on the team. She believes many women may be reluctant to volunteer for fear they might not meet the physical requirements.

Votry takes part in crowd control in parking lots at community events and parades and has yet to take part in an emergency response.

For a list of participating cities or for more information about the national organization go to

Melvindale police Sgt. Joseph Miller currently is accepting adult applications for his city’s team. He can be reached at (313) 429-1070 during normal business hours.