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Specialized training for emergency personnel is underway

Friday, December 27th, 2013
Issue 52, Volume 17.

TEMECULA – The City of Temecula, Cal Fire, and the Riverside County Sherriff’s Department are engaging its local firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics, law enforcement and emergency dispatch in specialized training developed by either Autism Risk & Safety Management or Ralph Carrasquillo Jr, of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, for emergency personnel to recognize and effectively communicate with people who have autism, as well as help reduce or eliminate dangerous situations and behaviors.

Since the formation of the Southwest Riverside Autism Task Force in 2010 led by Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar, the City of Temecula has actively advocated on behalf of Temecula’s special needs and autistic community.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. In 2002 the Centers for Disease Control reported that autism affected about 1 in 150 children. By 2008 the CDC estimate had increased to 1 in 88. Now, according to a recent CDC report, 1 in 50 school-aged children between the ages of 6 and 17 are being diagnosed.

One of several identified priorities within the City of Temecula/Southwest Riverside Autism Task Force Community Playbook, developed by Naggar and finalized in October of 2012, has been to expand training among key constituencies that serve or engage individuals with special needs, including public safety personnel.

"The prevalence of autism has become an epidemic and a first responder’s chance of encountering an autistic person is a matter of when, not if," stated Mayor Naggar. "Training all emergency personnel is a necessity."

Temecula Fire Captain Hans Bolowich agreed, "Wandering-related dangers, including drowning and prolonged exposure, remain a concerning risk within the autism population. Some children and adults may not be able to seek help if lost, or respond to their names when called. Being able to recognize such individuals and help them accordingly is critical," he said.

All Cal Fire personnel for the City of Temecula will receive this additional training in early 2014.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate Advertisement
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and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Brian Herritt, a consultant for Autism Risk & Safety Management, explained that "autistic individuals are not easily recognized by emergency personnel as having a disability so their behaviors can be misinterpreted as defiant. Most are sensitive to lights and sounds, especially sirens and excessive input on their senses can lead to a meltdown. Often times, people with autism have difficulty making eye contact and/or are non-verbal, and may not respond to simple commands or questions."

He added, "The spectrum of autism is very wide, however. This means that no two people with autism will have exactly the same characteristics. Within the spectrum, there are autism-related behaviors and characteristics that are less visible or apparent."

Recently, Sheriff Stan Sniff of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, in collaboration with Temecula Mayor Naggar’s outreach, began implementing training among all graduating cadets from Riverside County Sheriff’s Academy located at the Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center.

"I commend Sheriff Sniff for his genuine understanding of the importance of autism training, and for proliferating training of law enforcement on a regional basis throughout the county as matter of public safety both for his officers and for those they serve," stated Mayor Naggar.

Temecula Chief of Police Jeff Kubel also began implementing the same training throughout the Temecula Police Department with sessions offered in December and January.

He said, "Specialized training is important for law enforcement, particularly in precarious situations where communication impairments can make all involved more vulnerable. This type of specialized training will help our officers better serve the public when we encounter persons with special needs such as autism."

Mayor Naggar is hopeful training can be considered throughout the state.

"This epidemic is not confined to our region – it is a public health crisis and I am hopeful other jurisdictions might see what we are doing in Temecula and Riverside County and use it as a model in their communities."



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