Niagara Univ. program helps first responders help those with disabilities

Posted at: 11/28/2012 11:29 PM
Updated at: 11/28/2012 11:45 PM
By: Joangel Concepcion

Disabilities affect millions of New York residents. When first responders are called to help those in need, they are obligated to help regardless of the cause. That's why one university created a program to help those who help us.

Whether it's law enforcement, firefighters or EMS, thousands of Monroe County's first responders are thoroughly trained at the Public Safety Training Facility. Today about a dozen responders got a very different kind of training that officials believe will end up saving lives not just here, but across the state.

Most first responders have seen it all. But when it comes to dealing with those who are disabled, it can still be a worst-case scenario for some.

Monroe County Senior Probation Officer Michelle Vanbuskirk says "It may be intimidating and it may throw you off your rhythm. You may be accustomed to dealing with a certain kind of population and then find yourself in a situation where you're not sure how to respond." And that's exactly why she says seminars like these should be mandatory. "We are dealing with them with so many different aspects," she says, "So it's important to have some understanding of how to deal with these individuals effectively."

This is one of several seminars held throughout the state. Niagara University launched the program for first responders three years ago, so they can learn how to deal with a variety of disabilities.

Dave Whalen, Statewide Project Coordinator for the program, says the seminars are critical because some situations may be a matter of life and death. "Autism, physical disabilities, Tourette's syndrome, mental health, learning disabilities,dementia, brain injury. First responders have challenges and we're here to give them the best possible opportunity to make them proactive to respond."

The group, called "Train the Trainer," consisted of several agencies. These men and women will take in all of the knowledge and will later share it with other co-workers. They learned from hearing real life stories; teaching lessons they will also use themselves.

Program officials hope they can take it to the next level - teaching first responders nationwide, with the same goal in mind of making sure that the officers have all the tools they need to respond in the most appropriate and efficient manner.

The program is funded through a grant from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. It is a 5 year program and officials are hoping they can reach out to every single first responder throughout the state.

You can learn more about the program by clicking here.