Fire dept. to help kids with autism prepare for emergencies

A sensory tent will be set up, and licensed occupational and physical therapists will be present to share information about the unique needs of children on the autism spectrum


By Karla Ward
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — It only took a second for Patrick Branam’s young son Bryson to slip out of the house unnoticed, but Branam said a little preparation helped the story have a happy ending.

Branam, a Lexington firefighter, has the cell numbers of his neighbors set up as a group on his smartphone, and with a single text he can mobilize a neighborhood search crew, including one person to stand guard at the pool.

When Bryson, now 5, left the home, a neighbor peeked out and saw the boy, who has autism, walking in the snow.

When a child with autism goes missing, the fire department may be the first on the scene to begin the search.

“I want to make that different,” Branam said. “I want families to interact with their neighbors.”

Branam and other Lexington firefighters will host an event Saturday to help children with autism and their parents prepare for emergencies.

Autism Safety Day is from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at Fire Station 20, 3001 Arrowhead Drive, which is off Harrodsburg Road.

“We’ve designed this day to connect families with the support and resources they need to increase their chances of a positive outcome in the event of an emergency involving their child,” Branam said.

Kids will be able to meet firefighters and try on their gear.

“The big fire suit can be intimidating, even for adults,” Branam said. “We want kids on the autism spectrum to know that when they encounter a firefighter they are safe.”

There will be plenty of other fun too, including free food, ice cream, games, a bounce house, door prizes and family pictures.

The fire department will have its “smoke trailer” on site. The trailer mimics a home and allows families to practice getting out. Branam said visiting it will “maybe help parents know how their child would react” in the event of a fire.

There will also be training for using fire extinguishers and performing hands-only CPR, and families will be able to sign up for Smart 911.

A sensory tent will be set up, and licensed occupational and physical therapists will be present to share information about the unique needs of children on the autism spectrum.

Branam said he and his family felt alone when Bryson was first diagnosed, and community events like this one can help parents connect.

He said the fire department is expecting about 200 children at the event, which also helps firefighters and paramedics learn more about children with autism.

“This gives us an opportunity to learn about a growing population in our community,” he said. “We learn from them probably more than they learn from us.”

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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