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It was a busy half-hour Wednesday for an eager team of green-clad Salt Lakers. The group doused flames, rescued folks trapped under fallen debris and treated injuries of several disaster victims.

The emergency-preparedness drill at Salt Lake Fire Station No. 9 highlighted the graduation of 20 citizens from the Community Emergency Response Team, a national program aimed at equipping average residents with life-saving and organization skills needed in the immediate aftermath of calamity.Trainers say CERT members could make the difference in saving dozens of lives when disasters prevent professional emergency teams from responding.

For instance, firefighter John Shay said if a large earthquake hit, "We wouldn't be able to help, because we'd be part of the problem, too."

And with neighbors naturally wanting to help each other, he said, why not train them to do it right?

"Over 100 people died trying to rescue victims trapped in fallen buildings after the Mexico City earthquake" but 800 people were saved by their neighbors, said State Comprehensive Emergency Management officer Stephen Rundquist. "People want to help when disaster hits. We need to teach them how."

For seven weeks, participants spent three hours each Thursday learning disaster psychology, emergency preparedness and rescue tactics vital to coordinate relief efforts in their own neighborhoods. Graduates received green hard hats, vests and goggles to distinguish them as CERT members.

But that's not all they left with.

"I was one of those people who was not prepared for any type of natural disaster," said Stephanie Griffiths, a history teacher at Taylorsville High School. "After the training I feel like I'm ready, and my principal asked me to teach others at the school about organizing emergency response teams."

Those interested in the free CERT course can call 538-3400 or 799-4150. The next session is scheduled for Sept. 1.