Firefighters Spend Day With Students With Special Needs To Build Trust

Oct 28, 2019, 9:10 PM | Updated: 11:22 pm

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — Students with special needs at the Dan Peterson School got a visit from American Fork firefighters, who came to teach important safety skills and help the students feel more comfortable around first responders.

Captain Leif Nelson with the American Fork Fire Department came up with the idea to spend a day working with the students last year, knowing a fire drill, a medical call or a real emergency can be overwhelming for the students.

“Six simple commands: come here, crawl, stop, a few others or just some basic commands on how to listen to them, what to do when they hear that,” Nelson said.

It was an idea welcomed by the school’s principal.

“We practice fire drills here and our students are excellent at it, we can evacuate our building in around three minutes which is great considering most elementary schools are around four minutes,” said principal Kimberly Wong.

Not to mention many of the students here are in wheelchairs and need assistance to evacuate.

And for students with autism, it can be an overload on their senses.

“It’s important for people with disabilities to know about fire safety and we’re hoping, along with the fire department, that this goes statewide, that it doesn’t matter if you’re a special school or if your regular school that everyone knows how to be safe in case of a fire,” Wong added.

Speech pathologists said research has shown the students will be more comfortable with first responders if they interact with them in a situation that is not traumatizing.

“Reading them stories about why firefighters and emergency personnel exist, only there to help us in emergencies and when they come in, a lot of them have a good time they get big smiles on their face,” said Ben Stair, a speech pathologist at the school.

And Monday’s visit, which has become a school tradition, is a rewarding moment for firefighters, both professionally and personally.

“This is one of my favorite days of the year, not only to come out and help the students but also the way it benefits the fire department. The lessons we’re learning as a fire department, on how to handle children with rods in their spines, how to handle these complicated wheelchairs and vent systems that come along with them and the training and the opportunities we’re getting here have just been invaluable,” Nelson added.

“We love our American Fork firefighters, they come often to us whenever we have seizures and the students need to be transported. They are here within two minutes and so we have a great relationship with them,” Wong added.

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Firefighters Spend Day With Students With Special Needs To Build Trust