Dick McMullen signs his e-mails with “The only reason we are on earth is to help other people.”

Dick McMullen signs his e-mails with “The only reason we are on earth is to help other people.”

Those words are his belief which prompted him to sign up for the Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT) to be held Saturday, July 28, at Concordia Lutheran Church, in Geneseo.

Stephen Born, Springfield, Disaster Response coordinator, will lead the training which consists of deployment operations, proper attire, working as teams in disasters, property management, comfort dogs and more.

“Although the training is open to the public, because it is offered through the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the certification can only be given to members of the Lutheran church,” Born said.

“Once certified, the team will join the other 850 LERT team members in Central Illinois in responding to disaster such as tornadoes and floods,” Born said. “Each Lutheran church member will receive a certification badge which is to be carried with them during deployments. The certification is approved by FEMA and the LERT teams are recognized by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.”

John Kohrell, a member of Concordia Lutheran Church, completed the LERT training two years ago at St. John’s Lutheran Church, in East Moline.

“I took the training because I felt it was something that needed to be done,” he said. “I think everybody should take the training so they are able to help people in times of disaster.”

It was Born who spearheaded efforts to develop LERT training in Central Illinois.

“In May of 2013, I watched on television in horror as a tornado devastated and destroyed Moore, Okla., claiming many lives,” he said. “Accordingly, I drove to Chicago (from Springfield) and became a Lutheran Disaster Response team member. When I arrived back in Springfield, I contacted the Lutheran Church Central Illinois District and informed them that I was now part of the Central Illinois District Lutheran Disaster Response Team. To my surprise and bewilderment, I was told there was no team in existence in Central Illinois.”

He personally hosted the first LERT training on Aug. 31, 2013, in Decatur.

In September of 2013, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), Central Illinois District, which encompasses 51 counties, appointed Born as LCMS Disaster Response Coordinator.

As coordinator, Born utilizes his leadership skills by assessing the scene, deploying teams, and delegating responsibilities for an efficient and effective outcome to those in need.

“I am able to lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships,” he said.

On Nov. 17, 2013, 126 tornadoes struck seven states across the nation where Washington, Ill., was hit the hardest, Born said, and added, “Our Decatur team that was trained just 78 days prior to that, was deployed. This event was the catalyst for me and showed others the importance of the idea of creating a new disaster team.”

When Born made the decision to become a trainer, he went to work and shared his vision for future growth which included a specialized “Train the Trainers” course in St Louis, Mo., in 2014. He is now a certified trainer in disaster response, which allows him to credential more individuals.

He has been instrumental in organizing a resource model which allows for incorporating volunteer hours.

“For example, FEMA pays $18 an hour for each hour worked by the volunteer,” he said. “If our team accumulates 10,000 hours at a disaster, the city will receive $180,000 of our reimbursement monies to assist with disaster relief.

“Additionally, we do not have one paid staff member on our team, which means we do not have an overhead expense or salaries to pay out,” he said. “Any donations to the LERT program go by the ‘dollar-in, dollar-out’ philosophy. Every penny goes toward disaster relief work.”

Born did not stop with the basic LERT training. As a result of a severe storm in Chillicothe in September of 2014 when team members were asked to deploy with chainsaws, Born enrolled at the University of Illinois Forestry Extension program to obtain a chainsaw training certification.

The first chainsaw certification training was held in November of 2014 in Springfield and Born said since that first training, there are now 130 certified chainsaw LERT members.

The chainsaw training is available only to those who have already been certified in LERT.

Born’s team has also made national news. On March 16, 2016, just three days after he led a training seminar in Rock Island, there were 15 tornadoes that touched down in Illinois.

“In East Moline, an EF-2 tornado with winds up to 130 mph caused severe damage to many homes and injured 10 residents,” he said. “Sam Champion, Emmy and Peabody award winning journalist, managing editor of the Weather Channel and meteorologist on ‘Good Morning America,’ made a documentary covering our story and nominated the Lutheran Early Response Team as the April 2016 Weather Champions.

“The LERT program is now known to all statewide emergency county coordinators,” he said. “I could not have imagined when I started this program that we would be where we are now.”

For more information, contact Concordia Lutheran Church at 944-3993 or Born at (217) 220-0162.