The Roslindale Firehouse in Boston, Massachusetts, recently hosted Community Day for residents of the neighborhood diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, their families, and caregivers. The Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC) partnered with City Councilor Rob Consalvo to implement the program. Funding was provided by a grant from the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Boston Police, Fire, and EMS were all involved in Community Day, as was Bill Cannata, ALEC statewide coordinator and a member of NFPA’s Fire Safety for People with Disabilities Task Force.
The firehouse is one of many hosting Community Day with ALEC as the lead organization. Families are advised about the importance of developing safety plans. Social stories and picture exchange systems (PECS) are among the tools provided to help persons with ASD or other developmental disabilities prepare for emergencies and for responders trained through ALEC to know how to use PECS with individuals during an emergency.
NFPA’s “I Know My Fire Safety Plan” social story is another tool that can be used during open houses such as the one in Roslindale or at home. The online story is designed to teach children with ASD or other developmental disabilities what to do when the smoke alarm sounds. Parents and caregivers are advised to practice their fire safety plan with their children, then read the story with them.
Organizers say that Community Day at Roslindale Firehouse was a success. More than 400 people “liked” the event on Facebook, and a number of attendees expressed their gratitude to organizers through Facebook and Twitter.
“The next step in our program is to connect the ASD and developmental disability communities to first responders in a non-emergency situation so that they can better understand each other,” said Cannata. “The goal is to teach children and adults that first responders are there to help.”