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Youth participating in emergency preparedness training

Are you prepared for an emergency? These 4-H’ers are here to help

Annie Iannotti was helping her mom with some chores when she looked out the window and saw smoke coming from her neighbor’s house catty-corner from hers.

Annie, a high school senior, knew what to do. She grabbed her 4-H Youth Emergency Training bag and rushed over to the burning house with her mom.

When they reached the house, her neighbor ran out covered in soot and holding a kitten. Annie could tell her neighbor was experiencing the effects of smoke inhalation and shock, which she was able to communicate to first responders and firefighters as they arrived on the scene. And as firefighters emerged from the house with more animals, including two dogs, a Guinea pig, snake, lizard and ferret, Annie was able to assess each animal’s needs.

Annie was able to do all of this because of her two years of training in the Youth Emergency Training (YET) program offered through the UF/IFAS Extension Nassau County 4-H. YET provides youth with life-saving skills, such as first aid, medical triage, and search and rescue for people and animals.

YET participants Lillian Peoples, left, Annie Iannotti and Dominique Dupie. Photo courtesy of Annie Iannotti

YET participants left to right: Lillian Peoples, Annie Iannotti and Dominique Dupie. Images were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing. Photo courtesy of Annie Iannotti

“The fire at my neighbor’s was the first time I used my YET training in an actual emergency. But I felt prepared, and my YET bag has a full medical kit, which I know how to use. It was comforting knowing that I knew what to do and had ways to help,” Annie said.

Fortunately, her neighbor was able to make a full recovery. Sadly, not all of the pets survived, but Annie’s knowledge of animal handling and behavior helped keep those who did stay safe and comfortable.

Are you ready YET?

Today, emergency training for youth is more relevant than ever, said Kelsey Irvine, a 4-H agent for UF/IFAS Extension Nassau County. Irvine established YET three years ago in collaboration with the Nassau County Emergency Department and several other local organizations.

YET participants during an emergency response simulation. Photo by Kelsey Irvine

YET participants during an emergency response simulation. Images were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing. Photo by Kelsey Irvine

“In emergencies, youth can often feel like they are just bystanders, but they want to make a difference,” Irvine said. “The YET program gives youth a unique, tangible set of skills they can be proud of and put into action if needed.”

The 25-hour training takes place over three months and is taught by local emergency response professionals. The 11- to 18-year-old “YETis,” as participants are called, get hands-on experience responding to a variety of situations, including fires, medical emergencies and natural disasters. They even do a simulated search and rescue in which they must evaluate victims and evacuate them to safety.

“This is a fully staged scenario where we have people in moulage make-up and animal stand-ins who need to be evacuated out of the building using techniques the youth have learned. The youth need not only to show their skills but also show they can delegate tasks and work as a team,” Irvine said.

In a final capstone project, youth give back to the community and hone their communications skills by developing a public service announcement video or creating a public outreach presentation.

YET participants participating in fire suppression training. Images were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing. Photo by Kelsey Irvine

Training in the use of fire extinguishers during fire suppression training at 4-H University in 2019. Images were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing. Photo by Gary McCullough/AP Images for National 4-H Council

What’s next?

UF/IFAS Extension Nassau County 4-H was not able to offer the YET Program this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are plans to restart the program once in-person classes are possible, Irvine said.

Several graduates of the program have gone on to help teach emergency preparedness classes for adults. Graduates can also return for a second year as mentors to the younger participants.

“Helping the younger members was very rewarding. You learn that everyone is a valuable part of the team. In addition to learning the skills, you learn how to be kind and supportive of each other,” said Annie, who moved from Florida to Alabama last year.

In addition to YET, Annie also participates in 4-H through shooting sports competitions. She hopes to attend college next year on a shooting sports scholarship and study sports medicine.

“Sports medicine combines two interests I discovered in 4-H: helping people and athletics,” Annie said.

4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to 18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University, and serves approximately 200,000 youth annually. Learn more at florida4h.org.

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