At my preschool graduation my teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said: “a fireman just like my daddy”. I never did go on to become a first responder, I became a wife and mom, but I know many fire fighters still.
I grew up in a very small town (less than 700 people), I lived only a few houses down from the fire station, and when that whistle went off you could hear multiple front doors on our street closing shut and feet stomping the ground as these guys ran down to get on those trucks.
My dad was one of them. When his scanner went off he was gone no matter what time and no matter what was happening.
When I was little, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what he was doing. I understood he was saving someone, or putting out a fire but I had no idea what was actually involved. Now that I am older and more aware, I see that these men and women have a very difficult job. They do so much to keep us safe and helped.
A few months ago in April, I was talking to my dad about Bug and emergency situations and how I was very nervous of what she would do in a situation where she was in a stress filled, scary moment. I still worry about that. A lot. But I spoke to my dad about wishing there were trainings for first responders on autism and he suggested I do something about it. I found out a few days later that there are trainings in our area for police, but not fire or EMS on the subject of autism. Well me being me, I couldn’t just do nothing. My dad gave me the number of the fire Chief in the next city, who he was on the department with in the town I grew up in many years before. Well sheesh now I really need to step up and do something.
I met with the Chief a few weeks later and was delighted that he was so interested in trainings for his platoons on autism and emergency situations. I volunteered to do talks on autism awareness to each of the three platoons a few months later. I was very nervous but so excited.
My dad, now a commissioner on the same fire department he served at for 15 years, talked to the Chief (who happens to be my parents neighbor) and they decided I should practice my talk on the 25ish volunteers they had on the department. I hadn’t given a presentation of any sort since I was in high school and even those were done hastily and while staring at the back wall. I am not a natural public speaker by any means, but I feel this topic is so important, so I went down and practiced two weeks in a row. They all told me they had learned a lot and I should come back for refresher talks every once in a while. So I did better than I was expecting.
I was even able to plan a meet-and-greet for first responders and the community members with autism, to be held later this month. To be able to train our fire fighters to identify the behavioral traits of autism and be able to give them pointers on how to approach and handle a situation where there is a child or individual with autism involved. The kiddos will be able to see a fire fighter in a “casual” uniform as well as see them get dressed in their turnouts, to show that there is a friend under those big, sometimes scary, outfits.
I am also trying to start a movement within my meet-and-greets and on social media. Something that I have noticed in the local autism community is the power of repetition. So I am hoping that if each of us parents with a kiddo on the spectrum can talk enough about how firemen are our friends and there to help, and that if there is a fireman in your house or at your car you should #hugafireman. Hugging a fireman will ensure that the kiddo isn’t running away from the person who is there to help.
At the meet-and-greets I will also be handing out a page of ideas to help notify first responders in case of an emergency where the parent may be unavailable. Things such as high-visibility duct tape on the shoulder straps of the seat belt with a diagnosis, allergies, meds, and anything else that would be vital in an emergency situation.
This is not an easy task I have taken on, however, If no one else is going to then I need to. That has always been how I think, and if a topic as important as emergency situations and autism is not being shared with the very people who are there to help us in those situations, then how can we expect a good outcome? Awareness has always been and will always be one of the biggest things we as parents can do for our kids and I have taken on this project, with the support and knowledge of the wonderful professionals we work with, with the goal to educate and bring awareness to our first responders, the people who are always ready and always willing.