When laying out his goals for New Lenox, public safety division chief Dan Martin makes a tough task sound simple: “We’re trying to make New Lenox the healthiest, safest and most prepared community in Illinois.”
As New Lenox began to expand, village officials saw the need for someone to focus on public safety and emergency preparedness. That’s when Martin, 47, moved from his job as police chief at the New Lenox Police Department and took over his new role.
But how can he gauge New Lenox’s progress?
In recognition? Shortly after Martin took over as public safety division chief, New Lenox was designated a Safe Community by the World Health Organization and the National Safety Council. The rigorous application process must show a commitment to injury prevention and community safety. New Lenox is one of only three communities with the designation in Illinois and only 14 nationwide.
In awards? Stemming from Safe Communities, New Lenox created the Community Emergency Response Team and received great recognition in 2011: a first-place finish at the Prairie State CERT Challenge, an event designed to test the skills of CERT teams throughout the state, and the Governor’s Home Town Award for its "Preparing Citizens for Emergencies and Disasters" program.
Although the awards and recognition are nice, Martin knows the true sign of progress: the countless volunteers in the community who continue to come out, under his leadership, to work toward the goal of a safer and healthier New Lenox.
“We don’t do what we do so we win awards,” Martin said. “We do it because its the right thing to do. It’s all about the volunteers. Without their time effort and dedication to the team … none of that would even be possible.”
Preparing a Community
Martin knew instantly that this community would make CERT special here. He held an informational meeting a couple years ago and was surprised when 92 people showed up wanting to participate.
Now, nearly 200 people have completed the 20-hour, seven-week course that teaches residents how to prepare for emergencies and disasters.
“There are a lot of wonderful citizens looking out for their families but also wanting to give back to the community,” Martin said.
That was most evident during the blizzard in February 2011 (LINK), where CERT volunteers braved the weather to help however they were needed, including digging out cars and staffing a warming center.
Martin encouraged more people to get involved and said there will likely be one or two CERT courses in 2012. Expanding the list of volunteers is beneficial, he said, because it brings people with new perspectives and ideas from different areas of town. People from age 12 up to their mid-80’s have gone through CERT training, and a diverse background of careers—including nursing, teaching, information technology and carpentry—are represented.
“I’m very confident, because of the diversity and talent that exists, that we’ll respond well if we are confronted with an emergency or disaster,” Martin said.
Pooling talent and perspectives is another thing Martin accomplishes through the Safe Communities America Coalition and Citizen Corps Council, which are made up of people involved in schools, public safety departments, health organizations and many more groups.
New Lenox was designated a Safe Community in 2010 after a 100-page application outlining plans and initiatives was accepted. Immediately, Martin got to work to scour data and learn something about how residents were getting injured. Two areas he saw that could be addressed were suicide awareness and prevention, as well as slips and falls in the senior citizen community.
He said about two-thirds of ambulance calls for residents 65 and older here were related to seniors falling, so Safe Communities has worked with the Fire District to provide safety checks in seniors’ homes and local tai chi instructors to give free classes.
The Safe Communities groups held two fundraisers last year that will help future projects related to suicide awareness and prevention. One is a website that will contain resources and information for people seeking help, and the group also purchased signs to place along the Metra tracks.
“Suicide by train is unfortunately common,” Martin said. “We want people to know there’s help out there.”
Many initiatives involve collaboration on existing programs. For example, the Fire District offers CPR classes, so Safe Communities will promote the classes and try to extend that training to other groups in town. AthletiCo specializes in safety for young athletes, so they’ve partnered with Safe Communities to train local coaches on safe throwing methods and spotting concussion symptoms.
Martin said that in the coming year, Safe Communities hopes to work with local high school to create public awareness programs centered on distracted driving among teens.
All of these projects is a lot for Martin to coordinate, and he’s grateful to have so many volunteers willing to help.
That feeling is reciprocated by the volunteers with whom he works. Many people started in the CERT program with Martin and enjoyed it so much they continued their work beyond that. Martin said some members have stopped to aid victims of traffic accidents until an ambulance arrived. Another man applied his skills on the train when a woman suffered an injury. He stabilized here until the train stopped and paramedics arrived.
“Dan is an excellent leader, and his enthusiasm for emergency preparedness and helping others is infectious,” resident Rachael Gerlock said.
As New Lenox continues to grow, Martin will appreciate all the help he can get. He credits the volunteers for all their work, but those who help credit him with the vision and direction to reach that ultimate goal: an entirely safe and healthy community.
“I have grown up and been raised in New Lenox (61 years) and have not seen another person able to inspire so many in our community to volunteer for the safety and welfare of our citizens,” Sherry Gramse said.