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Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes speaks to graduates of the most recent Community Emergency Response Team program April 12 at the Dempster Fire Training Academy in Lawrence. Looking on is Freeholder Pat Colavita.

LAWRENCE, N.J. - Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes met with students of the latest Community Emergency Response Team on the final day of their course work and graduation ceremonies April 12 at the County's Dempster Fire Training Academy in Lawrence.

Each year, the County trains new volunteer CERT members through an intensive program designed to teach superlative communication skills as well as proficiency with a variety of emergency management and rescue equipment. In years past, CERT members have assisted County Emergency Management personnel and law enforcement officers with operations such as flood remediation and search/rescue missions. CERT volunteers assisted with the emergency response to the devastating explosion and fire in the South Fork neighborhood in Ewing last month, and in late 2012 proved invaluable during Superstorm Sandy, where they assisted in emergency operations for the duration of the event, which lasted more than a week. Mercer County offers the course through a partnership with Mercer County Community College and Mercer County Office of Emergency Management.

Hughes congratulated the 17 graduates on their accomplishments, and thanked them for their commitment to emergency public safety efforts in Mercer County.

"Your participation in the CERT program makes all the difference for County residents in need of assistance during an emergency," said the County Executive. "The support provided by CERT professionals allows this County to carry out highly sophisticated remediation efforts in a variety of emergency situations."

Mercer County Freeholder Pasquale "Pat" Colavita also attended the ceremony and spoke to the graduates.

With this new influx of graduates, the number of CERT members across the County, including the municipal CERTs, totals more than 400.

The concept of CERT was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. CERT members in Mercer County receive nine classroom training sessions followed by a final day of practical training at the Fire School. Tuition and supplies are provided through the State and County Homeland Security Grant programs.

"The safety of the citizens of Mercer County is dependent on the partnership between government, first responders and citizens themselves being as prepared as possible," Hughes said. "The CERT program has been extremely popular on a local level, so with the assistance of Mercer County Community College and our Homeland Security grants, we are able to offer this valuable training to more people countywide."

Graduates are:

Henry Adams Jr., Yardville; Brian Angelucci, Hamilton; JoAnn Baier, Robbinsville; Marjorie Burke-McCann, Hamilton Square; Michael Caddell, Plainsboro; Penelope Chambers, Princeton; Michael Coco, Titusville; Stanley DeGroote, West Windsor; Judy Gorberg, Princeton Junction; Andrew Hager, Mercerville; Kathi Loftin, Ewing; Susan McCormack, Ewing; David Sayen, Princeton; Tony Spagnolia, Ewing; Asma Taqi, Bordentown; Stephen Vetrano, Hamilton; and Joseph Whitty, Robbinsville.