Truckee CERT team welcomes unlikely member |

Truckee CERT team welcomes unlikely member

Shawn Amaral and his partner Ryan Singer assess a victim's injuries during a final Community Emergency Response Team training exercise on Saturday. With the completion of the test, Amaral became the first team member with autism to join CERT.
Hannah Jones/

Truckee’s Community Emergency Response Team welcomed 22 new volunteers on Saturday, including one unlikely member.

Shawn Amaral, an 18-year-old diagnosed with autism, successfully completed the final training exercise to become the first member with such a disability on the team.

“We believe there’s a place for everyone in the community on this team,” said Nick Brown, public information and safety officer for the Truckee Fire Protection District.

For the past two weeks, Brown has been instructing safety courses aimed at educating volunteers on how to prepare and respond to disasters. The final exercise, a hypothetical scenario in which a storm caused a chlorine leak and a fire at a community pool, harming multiple people, was a test to see how those in training would respond to the situation.

“Our mission is to build a more resilient community with focuses on education in relation to disaster preparedness, and fire safety and creating more awareness.”— Nick Brown, Truckee Fire Protection District public information and safety officer

In groups of two, team members sporting bright green vests and backpacks with first aid supplies approached the scene where volunteers acted out the symptoms of multiple types of injuries.

“He did this to get his feet wet and understand what it’s like to see if it’s something he wants to do,” said Mitch Amaral, Shawn’s father, who said that his son plans to take a public safety course at his school this year. “He’s good in these kinds of situations especially with adults.”

As he walked around and observed the final training exercise, he said he thought his son was performing well.

“He was asking good questions, like checking their pulse, squeezing his finger to test for capillary refill,” he said.

Shawn Amaral said he took the class because he wanted to learn how to help people when they needed it, but his favorite part was learning how to put out fires. As for the public safety course he plans to take at school, he said it will “be a piece of cake.”

“He really likes to help people and be where you can have conversations to grow and learn,” said his mother, Debora Amaral, who went through the training program with him. “When we signed up we didn’t know if we’d make it through the program. We’re just really proud of him.”


The CERT team is a nationwide program that trains civilians to respond properly to emergency situations that could be caused by severe storms or earthquakes. Established in 1985 by Los Angeles City Fire Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency soon adopted the program through the Emergency Management Institute along with the National Fire Academy.

Truckee’s team currently has 84 people, who all went through a two-week training process taught by Truckee firefighters.

“Our mission is to build a more resilient community with focuses on education in relation to disaster preparedness, and fire safety and creating more awareness,” said Brown. “We believe in the premise of the team.”

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at or 530-550-2652.

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