Person of the Week
Lou Coppola and CERT Team Called Upon to Help During COVID Crisis
Lou Coppola and members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) have helped organize food distribution and pickup for the North Haven Food Pantry. (Photo courtesy of Lou Coppola )
For more than two decades, Lou Coppola has run a construction business in North Haven. He also lived in town for 20 years. Three years ago, he was looking for a way to give back and became a part of the first class of North Haven’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
According to ready.gov/cert, the CERT program “educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT offers a consistent, nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization that professional responders can rely on during disaster situations, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks.”
CERT is run under FEMA and, in North Haven, Fire Chief Paul Januszewski asked Lou to take over as manager of the program last year. Januszewski is also the town’s emergency management director, which is the person who activates the CERT for tasks as needed.
“I was more than happy to take over the program,” says Lou, who is also a licensed building official for the Town of Wallingford. “The mission is pretty straightforward: Take care of yourself, your family, your neighbors, and the community.”
Since its founding, CERT has been activated after the May 2018 home explosion on Quinnipiac Avenue where the team provided meals and drinks to first responders. It also assisted after the microburst tornado came through later that month.
There are now about 40 active CERT members with 32 on the activation list. This past fall, CERT graduated its third class. All of the members completed a 20-hour program that is condensed into eight weeks of classes. There is no cost for the classes and no obligation to serve on the team once complete.
After the class, there are monthly meetings with continuing education. The group is trained in things such as advanced first aid, CPR, Narcan administration, the Stop the Bleed program, and more. The group also gives back to the community by participating in events such as the North Haven Road Race, Earth Day, and more.
“We’re not first responders, but we are activated when huge disasters happen,” says Lou. “You don’t have to sign up to be part of the CERT—you can just take the information home to protect your family—but out of the last class of 12, all 12 joined the program.”
With COVID-19 making a significant impact on the community, the CERT was activated for several tasks by Januszewski. He approached Lou when the North Haven Food Pantry began to get “critically low” on items. The team is activated through April 30, tasked with facilitating the collection of food donations.
Just prior to this, North Haven’s CERT received a bus from the Town of North Haven. The bus is currently being outfitted with vinyl decals and will serve as the program’s home base. The team has also been able to use the newly acquired bus for food donation pickups.
“It’s the backbone of our program and it’s already on the road picking up donations—that was a huge thing for us. We’ve already unloaded the bus once in just one week,” says Lou. “Safety is our number-one priority for our team and our residents. To drop off donations, people can pull in, pop their trunk, we’ll grab donations, and they’re on their way; it’s a very quick transaction.”
Lou noted that the group is collecting items at the North Haven Community Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For those who don’t want to or are unable to leave their house, donation pickups can be scheduled by contacting Lou at 203-627-2553.
In addition to helping collect food, the CERT was also called upon to organize a mask pickup when North Haven was chosen as a point of distribution for masks that were received from the state. The masks were shipped to the Rec Center and the team set up individual stations for 30 surrounding towns. Over the course of two days, a representative from each town made an appointment to pick up the masks for their first responders.
As a member of the CERT, Lou has gotten a firsthand glimpse into some of the inner workings of the town. He is quick to thank the fire chief, First Selectman Mike Freda, the town administration, and his CERT administrative team for their support.
“Mike Freda and the town administration have supportive about putting CERT into place and he is working so hard right now—when we were cleaning up last night at the end of the donation drop-off, he was just leaving and he pulled up to thank us,” says Lou. “We’re not out there alone. With the chief, the support has been phenomenal. There are four others on the CERT admin team and without everyone, there’s no way for the team to function. They are a huge help and if I didn’t have them, there wouldn’t be a team.”
Lou is also thankful to his family for their support, particularly over the past weeks as he has been spending more time on CERT tasks with the team activated. He has been married to Angela since 1997. The couple has a son, Luigi, who is studying engineering at UConn, and a daughter, Mia, who is a senior at North Haven High School.
“Even though things have been really tough, they’ve been absolutely supportive,” says Lou, who also enjoys cooking, walking the family’s two dogs, and completing home projects with Angela. “My son said to me one day, ‘I’m really proud of what you’re doing,’ and that was a great sense of accomplishment that my family is recognizing it.”
Lou has seen an increase in interest in the program. In past years, there was only training in the fall, but next year, the group is looking to add a winter training session as well. He notes that people of all ages and backgrounds are welcome, with everyone bringing something different to the table.
Some areas that are taught during the sessions include basic home safety, where utility shutoffs are, how a house operates and safety features, light search and rescue, first aid, and more.
“With past issues and all of the news, we’ve had a lot of people wanting to join so we’re going to have a fall and winter session coming up,” says Lou. “When you donate online or to an organization, the item goes out there, but you don’t always get to see the effect.
“Being able to see people in need and help them is really satisfying and fulfilling,” he says.
To schedule a donation pickup or for more information on CERT, contact Lou at 203-627-2553.
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .