Event focused on children with special needs

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A safety event geared towards children with special needs debuted over the weekend in Westminster. The event was sponsored by the Westminster Fire Department and the Spectra Autism Center and focused on teaching children and their family members about the fire safety and gave youngsters an opportunity to experience what the job of a firefighter is like

“The safety event was open to any child, but we really wanted to put a focus on children with special needs and allow them to see what real firefighter does while teaching them some safety,” said Westminster firefighter and event organizer Luke Gearhard.

The Sunday July 14 event at the Westminster training tower, featured firefighter demonstrations including rappelling off the side of the training tower and two vehicle extractions. Children enjoyed free rides in vintage fire truck while trying on real firefighter gear and testing their skills in the firefighter combat challenge obstacle course.

Angela Trout brought her two children to the event, one who has autism. She said it’s nice to have an event geared towards kids with special needs, but one that is also welcome to her other child.

“This is a lot of fun,” she said. “I like being able to bring both my kids, but also go somewhere that is focused on children with special needs.”

Amy Gearhard, CEO of Spectra and Luke’s wife, said she’s never seen an event like this one in Colorado and she hopes it continues to grow in the future. Working with individuals with special needs on a daily basis, Amy understands how an individual with special needs may react differently in an emergency situation. She said the event was also an opportunity for firefighters to learn more about children with special needs and how to handle certain situations.

“It’s important for firefighters and police officers to understand the difference in dealing with a child with special needs,” she said. “A firefighter might get a call about a violent and aggressive child who has special needs, so it’s important that a firefighter knows that the last thing he should do is restrain that child. It’s knowledge like this that can help make everyone safer.

Both Luke and Amy agree a great way for families to communicate information to police and fire is by signing up for Smart911, a free, nationwide private service that allows people to create safety profiles online. The participants can enter vital information about themselves and their family members to be used during an emergency situation. People can create their profiles by going online to www.smart911.com. After signing up, people will be contacted every six months to confirm that the information on the profile is still current.

“We hope people utilize the Smart911 service because it could really make a difference during an emergency,” Luke said.