More than 35 emergency care personnel and volunteers representing nine towns gathered at the Hope Fire Station April 24 to become certified for opening and running emergency warming shelters.

American Red Cross shelter operations trainer Gretchen O’Grady, Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director Ray Sisk, and the agency’s Eileen Wilkinson led the discussion and training.

The meeting was held to create a “strategic plan to operate warming centers at the local level all the way up to the regional level,” said Wilkinson.

“Rather than relying on first responders and technical people, we are organizing to take the burden off of firefighters and emergency medical technicians during a time of emergency,” she said. “Certifying volunteers to man shelters will be important not just to take the stress off of emergency medical personnel. Our trainings will also institutionalize a protocol that will work at a local level and a regional level with the American Red Cross.”

Over the past four years, Midcoast Maine has been hit with record-breaking storms that have knocked out power. This past year, a warming shelter was organized in Knox County to help those that were out of power for several days, said O’Grady.

Towns represented at the April 24 gathering included Cushing, Hope, Rockland, Union, Washington, St. George, Thomaston, Friendship and Owls head.

There will be a county-wide open house to introduce warming shelters to the community and to offer hands-on training on Nov. 7. For more information, contact the Knox County Emergency Management Agency at 594-5155 or ewilkinson@knoxcountymaine.gov.