Say what you want about the rainy marine climate in Bellingham, but for retired meteorologist Bob Jacobson, 66, the city sounded Goldilocks-approved - on the water, but not on the open water, not too hot, not too cold - just right.
Jacobson and his wife moved to Bellingham sight unseen in 2002. The two packed up their belongings into a U-Haul, drove cross-country from Washington D.C., and found a house within a week.
Aside from the weather and geographical considerations, the couple was attracted to Bellingham because of the colleges.
"Mentally you can't get old if you deal with young people," Jacobson says, laughing.
As a young retiree, Jacobson knew he needed to find something to occupy his free time, so he looked into volunteering for the county.
"When a person retires, especially at age 56, you can't just sit around and wait to die," he says. "You have to have something to do, something to look forward to each day."
Jacobson started volunteering with the Whatcom County Division of Emergency Management. He had never heard of Community Emergency Response Team training before, but he had dealt with preparedness planners while working as a weatherman for the National Weather Service.
CERT is a national program that offers training materials and classes to average citizens. The idea is that friends and neighbors with a little bit of training will be able to help one another out in case of a major disaster or emergency, when 911 and other help is likely to be overwhelmed.
After Jacobson had volunteered with emergency management for a few years, Sheriff Bill Elfo asked if he would be willing to manage the county's CERT program. Jacobson gladly took on the task in 2004.
The training prepares people for unexpected disasters and emergencies, and teaches them basic team organization and how to respond to a variety of situations until trained, professional help arrives.
"It allows people to know some place to start from," Jacobson says. "Each time I teach a class, I learn something. You never know when you're going to use your training. People think of just severe weather or some natural disaster, but things happen every day."
CERT training came in handy in Jacobson's own life in 2008. While he was visiting his 85-year-old mother in Illinois, she fell headfirst down the stairs. Jacobson sprung into action, doing a head-to-toe assessment. He didn't find anything wrong with her, and after the experts at the emergency room checked her out, she walked away with just a few bruises.
"I know people who would freeze in that event," he says. "We didn't."
Jacobson wishes he could get more people to understand the potential benefits of CERT training, even in day-to-day life.
"A lot of people say 'It's not going to happen to me,'" Jacobson says. "Yeah, there's probably not going to be the big 9.0 magnitude subduction-zone earthquake off the coast of Washington in your lifetime, but people in Japan thought the same thing."
Jacobson and his wife took a road trip through Montana in 1971, travelling down grey, two-lane highways, where cities are separated by hours of nothingness. The couple came upon an accident: a truck carrying livestock had crashed, and there were dozens of dead and injured animals, some wandering scared through the field next to the crash. The couple went a few minutes up the road to find a phone, but it took more than an hour for police to arrive.
"Now, what if that had been a school bus with about 30 or 40 kids that had been hurt and my wife and I were the only people that were there for an hour or two?" Jacobson says. "Where do you start? That's what CERT training gives you: it gives you the opportunity to at least start to do something."
Since 1999, Whatcom County has held 60 CERT classes and trained more than 800 people. The classes can be held privately for groups and are also offered through Bellingham Technical College. The course costs between $50 and $69 and includes a training book and safety kit, which includes a helmet, gloves, safety glasses, a bright vest and other tools to be used in case of emergency.
Jacobson says to this day, he still fondly remembers the first CERT class he taught: CERT class 18. The Citizen Corps sponsored the class so low-income community members would be prepared and ready to help in high-occupancy areas in an emergency.
After about two weeks, (the class typically meets once a week for eight weeks), all male participants had dropped out and Jacobson was left with a small group of women, most of whom were about 70 years old.
"These people started and they were reticent, they were hesitant," he says. "I have seen the definition of empowerment. By the eighth week, these women were changed."
Three of the women showed up for the final test with their walkers.
"Granted, they can't carry victims, but they knew what to do and they could instruct other people in how to do it properly," Jacobson says. "I have never, ever been so proud of a group of women in my life."
The Bellingham Herald salutes Whatcom County people who help make our community a great place to live with our annual Ten Who Cared series. If you have a suggestion for someone we should salute next year, please email email@example.com.