This week, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, in partnership with the Special Kids Foundation, have placed sensory bags on each fire engine to assist individuals with autism during calls.
The move comes after Lisa McBride saw news that the Clearcreek Township Fire Department in Ohio took steps to respond to incidents that involved autistic individuals to help them keep individuals calm during stressful situations.
She immediately knew she had to bring that idea locally and include items to assist all individuals with sensory issues.
McBride approached the fire district who immediately welcomed the gesture. She worked with her organization to build 15-bags which were then provided to the fire district and now hopes to expand to other local fire districts and even police departments.
The bags will also be replaced as they are used in incidents through her organization.
“We saw the Ohio story on social media and were both so thrilled and embarrassed because we hadn’t thought of it first because we are well versed in the need of sensory intervention and immediately knew this is what our area needed,” explained McBride. “The need is both for children and adults with sensory issues of many kinds from both autism and other areas of need. So we saw the story and immediately wanted to bring it local.”
McBride says that within minutes of a presentation to her board, the Special Kids Foundation approved moving forward with the creation of the multi-sensory bags—in total, 15 bags were immediately created and they are in process of building more for future uses.
The sensory kits include noise-reducing earmuffs, stress balls, fidget spinners and other fidget toys that reduce noise around them, keep their minds and hands busy and help communicate with first responders.
McBride was quick to point out that there is no “normal” with individuals with sensory issues as each call may be different and noted different items may be a better fit with different individuals which is why the bag is full of items to provide a sensory release for their emotional and physical distress during an emergency.
Ross Macumber, Battalion Chief with the Fire District, was thrilled when McBride brought the idea forward and the immediately began working on training firefighters on how and when to utilize the tools in the bags.
He highlighted that from concept to implementation, this took about a month once McBride brought the idea forward which included a training video for firefighters on how each item might be utilized on scene.
“Lisa McBride contacted the fire district and had the idea of providing a solution to the aspect that there are many people within the fire district who have sensory issues. She had the news out of Ohio and wanted to bring that idea here locally,” explained Macumber. “We met with her, she put together the bags at no cost to the district and provided a training video. We were then able to train all of our members and this week placed these bags into service for those who need them in order to make it a better environment during what could be a chaotic scene some times.”
McBride said she was thrilled that the fire district not only saw the need she presented, but fully embraced the idea.
“It is such a huge need and to see them embrace it and move forward with training to broaden their understanding, the firefighters really stepped up,” said McBride. “It hasn’t always been like this in the past. They not only embraced the bags, but they were willing to learn how to provide support to this community of individuals who may need the extra level of support during an emergency.”
Fire Chief Brian Helmick said he was excited that the District could provide the bags for what he called as a blind spot in the district service needs in terms of sensory issues and this makes them better at doing their job on potential chaotic calls.
“I am excited for this opportunity to partner with a local organization to provide better focused services to those with multi-sensory issues,” said Helmick. “I am happy we were able to make this happen and is another good example of thinking outside the box to better serve the community.”
Special Kids Foundation, out of the Town of Discovery Bay, in the past has worked to raise funds for the Pirate Park (a universal sensory park) in the City of Brentwood, host Santa at Smith Family Farms along with a variety of events and opportunities throughout the year.
The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District provides firefighting personnel and emergency medical service to the residents and businesses in Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Bethel Island, Knightsen, Byron, Marsh Creek, and Morgan Territory.