Local firefighters now have tools to better interact with people on the autism spectrum.
The Huntsville Lake of Bays (HLOB) Fire Department now has five Ben’s Blue Bags– the first department outside the United States to carry them.
“There’s one for every one of our stations,” says Deputy Fire Chief Paul Calleja. “It goes on the apparatus that would generally go the majority of calls. So each station has one that, for the most part, will be on scene whenever they are dispatched.”
Calleja says the bags contain a variety of tactile items which can be calming to people with autism. Among others, that includes fidget toys, mechanical puzzles, and an indicator board with a writing side and “pictorial” side which can help them communicate their needs.
“We have such a variety of individuals that we deal with on a daily basis, and it’s our responsibility to be prepared for really any situation, and who you might have to deal with,” says Calleja.
According to Calleja, the idea came from the department’s training officer, Fred Landry, after he was asked about autism-specific training by a new recruit.
Calleja says they then bought the bags, and brought someone in from the Autism Society of Canada to take them through the do’s and don’ts of emergencies involving someone on the spectrum.
“This was very simple for us to put together, and just make our members more prepared in the event of that emergency [where] we are dealing with someone that does exhibit the signs of autism,” says Calleja. “We can help them, because that’s what we’re here for, to help every individual where they’re at. And this just assists us in doing that.”