Side Note episodes are not necessarily about special needs homeschooling, but are topics of interest to the special needs or homeschooling communities.
Can you really plan ahead for an emergency if you have a kid with disabilities? Yes!
For this episode, I invited my brother, Ben, on to share his wisdom as an experienced professional firefighter. He shared some great--and very straight forward--ideas of what you can do now to prepare your family for emergencies before they happen.
The Importance of the Present Parent
Training varies from state to state, but all professional fire fighters can handle medical emergencies--even those when medical devices like tracheostomy tubes or ventilators are involved. Of course, if your child has more advanced medical equipment that requires specialized training, firefighters might ask you for help.
It is important for a parent to be mentally and physically present and prepared when dealing with a medical emergency, for several reasons. If you know that you are going to have a hard time standing back and letting someone else help your child, prepare yourself ahead of time by thinking of what you could do to be helpful if an emergency ever arose.
- Parents who are present will be able to help calm or explain situations for nonverbal children in an emergency.
- Parents can help with more advanced medical equipment.
- Parents can provide calm to a child with high anxiety.
- Parents can provide a list of medications or medical equipment that will need to go with the child in an emergency. (This is something great to do ahead of time!)
Ben reiterated the importance of allowing professionals to do their job and not get in the way. Which is hard to hear, isn't it? I know it is for me. But it definitely important.
We have a job to do. We all have the same common goal.
Having A Fire Safety Plan
Depending on your child's needs, having a formal fire safety plan in place ahead of time may or may not be feasible. If you have a child with mobility issues, cognitive delays, problem solving issues, anxiety, or anything else that might hinder them from following a formal fire safety plan, here are some great ideas:
Sign up for a Smart911 account. This service allows you to create a family profile, including any pictures or lists of special needs that a first responder would need to know when answering a call to your house. If you have a Smart911 account, dispatch will send that information over to the first responders when 911 is called from any addresses or phone numbers on the account. You can go to the website and see if this service is a good fit for your family or if it is available where you live.
Try to teach your child two ways out of your house. Make a game of practicing fire drills. Rather than saying "fire" or "go to your meeting place," create a fun code word that is not triggering. If your child does not understand the idea of a meeting spot, tell them to go to a specific location when you say the code word. And then give them a reward every time they go to that spot when you say the code word. By making it a game and having rewards associated with the location, in case of actual emergency, a child will be far more likely to go to that meeting spot rather than hiding.
In the end, Ben reminds us all that "a half baked plan is better than no plan at all."
Preparing For Fire Emergencies When You Have Kids With Anxiety or Who May Not Understand
Visit a local fire department to see and experience the fire house. Ask them to put on the full gear and breathe on air so your child can see what it looks like and how it sounds. Ben says to remind your child "If you see someone who looks like this, don't hide. They are friends."
If you see someone who looks like this, don't hide. They are friends.
Something else to consider doing is to invite your local firefighters to visit your home to meet your kids and visit their rooms if they have special equipment or enclosed beds, etc. While you might not always be keen to give strangers a tour of your home, in this case, firefighters will make note of your house layout and any special equipment. These notes will pop up if you ever call 911, and firefighters will have an action plan--especially in case of fire rescue--that they can pull up on their way to your home.
Go to "Touch A Truck" shows to see fire trucks with lights on. These shows also usually have sensory friendly hours.
If you do have an emergency, you can talk to dispatch and request that the first responders come in quietly without lights or sirens.
Some tough words...
In the end, if you are in a fire emergency and your child hides or cannot escape for whatever reason, it is very important to remember that firefighters have training and the equipment to find hiders. You are best serving the fire fighters if you are outside telling them where to look for your child, since they have the equipment to breathe inside a fire and withstand heat. If you are inside the fire, they have to find you, and would have no idea about your child's needs or where to find them. As hard as it is on a mom's heart, "you are much more valuable outside than trying to do your own searches."
Preparing For Car Emergencies
I asked Ben about placing a sticker or note on the side of a child's carseat, or on the window, to alert firefighters about special needs. He said that because of car damage and first responders' "tunnel vision," seat belt medical alert covers are a better option. Better yet are medical alert bracelets because first responders are trained to check for them.
My personal favorite option for medical alert bracelets is the Alert Me Band. We have used these for several years for our son with Down syndrome. They are soft, waterproof, and impossible for a child to take off. I reached out to Alert Me Bands to tell them about this podcast episode, and they so kindly are offering my listeners (and readers) a discount! You can get $5 off all designs of Alert Me Bands with the code FlamingoFeathers5. And there's no expiration date, so if you are reading this way after publication, no worries!
For both car and fire emergencies, you can use social stories to teach your child with special needs what to do in a scary situation. You'll find several examples of social stories on my Pinterest boards, and I highly recommend writing your own so it is more relatable to your child. Here's a great tutorial on how to write your own social stories.
In the end, remember that teamwork with your local fire department is key. Everyone has the same goal in mind. This is also a fantastic opportunity to advocate for the people with special needs in your community. Reach out to your local fire department and see if there is a way you can provide education or help to spark an idea for their continuing education credits.