by Lisa Braxton
From the new issue of NFPA Journal®
In a fire, people with developmental disabilities or cognitive deficits may not be able to take life-saving actions. They may wait for verbal instructions on whether to escape, decide to stay inside until rescuers arrive, or run back into a burning building to seek shelter where they feel safe.
Fire and life safety experts say that, in an emergency, it is critical that firefighters know ahead of time that they are responding to persons with developmental disabilities and that they understand the characteristics of those disabilities.
One such disability is autism, which has been in the news a lot lately. A study recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests the disorder may be far more prevalent than suggested by earlier research. That’s a concern for first responders like Bill Cannata, a captain with the Westwood Fire Department in Massachusetts. Cannata is also statewide coordinator of the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC), which trains first responders to recognize situations involving people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Also see: download NFPA's free "Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities".