South Trail fire using kits to help people on the spectrum during emergencies

Reporter: Taylor Wirtz
The South Trail Fire & Rescue District is using “calm down” boxes to help people might be on the spectrum. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Firefighters train so they are ready to respond to any situation.

Whether it’s a crash or fire, they are meeting someone who’s going through a traumatic experience.

For people with autism, those experiences can be especially tough.

Laiellah Hatcher ran back into her Arcadia home to save her dogs and never made it out.

The young girl was on the autism spectrum.

Stories like these are why the South Trail Fire & Rescue District now gives first responders autism spectrum awareness training.

“That helps us identify this is somebody that we need to make sure that we need to be extra careful with,” said Amy Bollen, director of public relations with South Trail Fire & Rescue.

The fire district has learned that people on the spectrum respond differently. Because of that, they have begun to carry “calm down” sensory kits as well as communication boards.

“Understand the processing part of it. But also to understand sensory. We have to ask permission to touch. We have to ask permission every step of the way. And explain it in ways that are clear and concise and in small bits at a time. Because we don’t want to ever trigger them,” Bollen said.

Anjali Van Drie, who works with the children on the spectrum, sees the benefit of the kits.

“Just helping meet that need and give them something that they can do to help self regulate and calm themselves can really shift the dynamic and prevent things from getting more escalated,” said Van Drie, president and co-founder of Family Initiative.

Even if it comes down to something as simple as a stress ball, the fire district hopes it can save lives.

The South Trail Fire Rescue & District said it’s shared the idea with other fire departments of Southwest Florida and hopes to get other agencies on board as well.


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