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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 16, 2012

State Fire Officials Introduce Autism Awareness Training For First Responders
Free Training Educates Fire and EMS Personnel to Better Understand Autism Spectrum Disorders

AURORA - The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM), in partnership with the Illinois Fire Service Institute and Giant Steps, today announced a new training program for firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to help better protect individuals with autism spectrum and related disorders.  The new program, available online at no cost, helps first responders to recognize autism disorders during an emergency response and better understand techniques to communicate.  The training also includes an award program, whereby Giant Steps shall provide acknowledgement to fire departments whose personnel obtain this training.

“This is important training to better prepare first responders,” explained State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis.  “Autism spectrum and similar disorders may affect the way someone reacts during high stress situations and first responders need to recognize and understand an effective way to keep them safe.”  

This training program was created at the request of State Senator Edward Maloney (D-18, Chicago), State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-83, Aurora) and State Representative Sid Mathias (R-53, Arlington Heights) who worked with the Office of the State Fire Marshal to develop this training at no cost to local fire departments. 

“I would like to thank State Fire Marshal Matkaitis, Giant Steps Chairman of the Board Christine Thornton Wiener and Giant Steps Executive Director Bridget O’Connor for establishing this unique partnership,” stated Senator Maloney.  “Their collaboration to promote this training will have a meaningful impact as firefighters are better-prepared to meet the needs of individuals with autism.”
 
“This program is about ensuring the safety of our first responders as well as those with autism and similar disorders,” said Rep. Chapa LaVia. “By providing free training for first responders, we can raise awareness and better assist those who are living with autism. I am proud to be a part of this life saving program and look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and the State Fire Marshal to further improve public safety.”

“Autism is a real world problem that deserves real world training, especially for first responders,” said Rep. Mathias.  “With child autism rates continually on the rise, firefighters and paramedics will be faced with increasing circumstances that involves a person with autism.  This training will improve the skills of our first responders and will help increase the safety for individuals on the autism spectrum.”

“On behalf of the citizens of Aurora, I would like to commend those involved in making this important training a reality,” stated Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner as he welcomed the announcement to the Aurora Central Fire Station.  “Our first responders are faced with a multitude of challenges on a daily basis and it is vitally important to ensure they are equipped not only a physical level—but that they are fully prepared to address the needs of all of our citizens.”

The program entitled “Autism Spectrum and Similar Disorders in Emergency Situations” was developed by staff at the Illinois Fire Service Institute in consultation with various experts and publications from across the United States.  The program provides an awareness-level introduction to firefighters and emergency medical personnel who may encounter individuals with autism both in low stress and high risk situations. 

“Fire and EMS personnel provide a wide range of responses to the public, from activated fire alarms and medical calls to car crashes and working structure fires,” explained Illinois Fire Service Institute Director Richard Jaehne.  “These are incredibly stressful events for everyone, and even more so for someone who has autism.  This program helps prepare firefighters to better deal with such events in a manner that is safer and more effective for both the individual and the firefighter.”

Fire departments who participate in this program with a personnel completion rate of 75% or more shall receive recognition by Giant Steps Illinois.  The recognition will include a plaque for the fire station and a logo magnet to affix on a fire truck. 

“We believe this recognition will help raise awareness for the importance of autism awareness training,” stated Giant Steps Executive Director Bridget O’Connor.  “Families served by these fire departments can see this recognition on a fire truck or at the fire station and feel a sense of comfort that firefighters care to better understand how to protect individuals with autism spectrum disorder.”

The training program is available through a link at the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s website (www.sfm.illinois.gov) or directly through the Illinois Fire Service Institute website (www.fsi.illinois.edu).   Anyone interested to participate in this training program must register free of charge through the Illinois Fire Service Institute. 

About the Office of the State Fire Marshal:  The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal is a regulatory, investigative, enforcement, and support Agency within the State of Illinois.  The OSFM regulates various professions and industries, enforces state-adopted safety codes, investigates arson-related crimes, and provides technical plan review and inspection services throughout the State.  The OSFM also serves as a liaison from the State to local fire departments while also providing services like firefighter professional standard certifications, public education initiatives as well as revolving loan programs and grants.  The Director of the OSFM is Illinois State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis.  State Fire Marshal Matkaitis has served in this role since 2010; he was reappointed and confirmed by the State Senate in 2011.

About the Illinois Fire Service Institute: The Illinois Fire Service Institute is the statutory fire academy for the state of Illinois.  In addition to training provided at the Champaign campus, the Institute offers online classes and conducts training throughout the state at Regional Training Centers and local fire stations.  The mission of the Illinois Fire Service Institute is to help firefighters do their work through training, education, information and research.

About Giant Steps: Autism affects as many as 1 in 88 children born in the United States today.  As an organization, Giant Steps remain committed to advocacy and education by providing training programs for families, first responders, and various other public and private sector partnerships.  As a designated therapeutic day school in the State of Illinois, the goal of Giant Steps is to provide a nurturing, educational environment for children on the autism spectrum, in addition to promoting greater understanding of the challenges that families living with autism encounter.  Giant Steps provides individualized programs for students that focus on both learning and social & physical development.  Every aspect of the 72,000 sq. ft. specialty school is designed to accommodate children living with the disorder, from color-coded walls and picture cues to specialized music therapy and physical education programs, making it a truly unique facility.


 



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