SAN DIMAS, Calif. – WesCorp Manager of Corporate Communications Walter Laskos wants to help his neighborhood take charge in an emergency because every second counts. Laskos is part of an innovative new program developed by the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that puts the first response to an emergency in the hands of neighborhood volunteers. The idea is that neighborhood volunteers can be on the scene faster than anyone, so anything they can do to assist the community in some type of potential disaster can only help the situation. In major catastrophes, it can take emergency crews days to get on the scene. “A lot of times the fire departments and emergency services are overwhelmed and can’t get into a local neighborhood for two or three days. This volunteer group can put out small fires, do light search and rescue and give first aid in the mean time,” said Laskos. Laskos found out about the program through his homeowners association. So far having worked on a number of exercises, something interesting, yet scary strikes Laskos. “I guess the thing I learned is how unprepared many people are in terms of making your house earthquake safe, preparing for a fire. Also in how people react. You think of people running inside a burning building to save people, but how do you do that safely and not cause more problems,” said Laskos. Laskos isn’t just making this a neighborhood project. He’s hoping to extend the preparedness to WesCorp, which already has an extensive safety program in place. In the community, the name of the program is called Community Emergency Response Teams and is expected to be a model that will be used around the country. The business side to this is called the Business Emergency Response Team, which WesCorp may embark on. In one of his most recent exercises, Laskos learned how volunteers can help people trapped under heavy rubble like concrete by using a technique called “cribbing”, where things like two by fours and other objects are used to inch by inch lift a very heavy object enough so people can escape. Laskos’ public relations skills may also come into the mix. He said he may volunteer to coordinate some media exposure around future exercises to help spread the word about the program. -pgentile@cutimes.com