UFD holds fire safety workshop for adults with disabilities

From left, Union Fire Department Capt. Thomas Holder, firefighter Vincent Amato, and Center for Family Support members Richard Nolte, Renee Kennedy, John Regan, Shakeemah Knight, Frank Crommenlein, Lisa Messina, Nicole Penhale, Renee Jones and William Pecci are pictured with firefighters Christopher Davitt and Shivanauth Sookdeo, second row, right.

UNION, NJ — Township of Union firefighters recently teamed up with the Center for Family Support to present a fire safety workshop for adults with disabilities.
Firefighters from the Union Fire Department joined with CFS, a Paramus-based organization that advocates for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, at the site of the CFS day program in Union.

Firefighters, who rode in on a firetruck in full uniform, offered tips to the approximately 30 CFS attendees about staying safe in their homes and what to do in the event of a fire.

Firefighters taught participants about fire safety apparatus and discussed topics such as identifying exits before a fire strikes and leaving a building in the event of a fire.

CFS members run self-advocacy groups, formed to give adults with disabilities a voice about their choices in such matters as where they live, what type of work they enjoy and leisure time activities. The group meets monthly and holds elections of officers on an annual basis.

Carrie Walker, a behaviorist with CFS, was instrumental in putting the March 29 fire safety workshop together.

“The Union Fire Department previously visited the CFS Union Autism Day Program in October 2016,” Walker told LocalSource in a May 3 email. “The self-advocacy group is trying to build a better relationship with the local first responders and decided to reach out the Union FD about speaking to the individuals at the self-advocacy meeting.”

According to Walker, the group comprises individuals who live in a CFS group home and attend CFS day programs.

“The group gives its members a platform where they can express their needs and concerns,” Walker said. “It is also a place where they can ask questions and gain more knowledge about their individual rights. The self-advocacy group also hosts fundraising events and participates in various advocating events in their community.”

Union Fire Chief Greg Ricciardi told LocalSource that the department was pleased for the opportunity to be included in the initiative.

“The Center for Family Support initially called Union Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau and asked if we would be willing to participate in their workshop and talk about fire safety,” Ricciardi said in a May 5 email. “The Union Fire Department is a very progressive department and we pride ourselves in community assistance, education and involvement.”

According to the chief, department members understood that their target audience would need some adaptations.

“With this challenge, we chose to utilize a simpler curriculum that is often used for our fire prevention program in our township schools,” Ricciardi said.
Walker noted that the workshop was adapted to the group’s special needs, with firefighters discussing issues to which CFS members could easily relate.

“It was adapted for the CFS members in the sense of speaking of things that relate to their personal lives,” Walker said. “They mainly discussed fire-evacuation strategies. The Union FD also had one of the firefighters dress in their full fire gear and greet the individuals.”

According to Ricciardi, firefighters arrived at the workshop in a firetruck to immediately capture the audience’s attention.

“All our members were dressed in uniform,” Ricciardi said. “We also had a firefighter get dressed in all his personal protective equipment and donned a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) so that everyone could visualize what a real firefighter looks like when dressed for a reported fire. All the participants had the opportunity to touch and feel the gear while it was on the firefighter so that the audience members would not be intimidated if they were ever to come into contact with the fire department.”

Firefighters also offered tips about staying safe at home and what to do in the event of a fire, Ricciardi said.

“We also spoke about having an escape plan that should be known by everyone in the household, which should include identification of all possible exits and escape routes,” he said.

“The feedback we received from the staff and clients was extremely positive. They were very appreciative of the information we provided. This is the second year we were asked to come and speak at this great event.”

According to Walker, programs geared toward this specific community are crucial because individuals do not always respond in a way that is understood by first responders.

“CFS is trying to bridge the various gaps that exist between the individuals that we serve and the first responders in their communities,” she said.

Plans are currently under way to have other first responders address upcoming self-advocacy groups.

The Center for Family Support, founded in 1954, supports more than 1,500 individuals in New Jersey and the New York City metropolitan area; for more information, visit www.cfsny.org.