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Wilton Police, Firefighters and Volunteer Ambulance Corps EMS partners are hosting an Open House for children with special needs and their families on Monday, Nov. 7 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Wilton Fire and Police Departments. This open house has been sponsored by the Wilton Parent’s Advisory Board for Special Services and 504 (PAB) as part of an effort to introduce the town’s first responders to the children in a calm, safe environment and to help the children better understand the work of the town’s first responders in a fun, non-stressful way.

According to Rebecca LePage, MD, co-chair of the PAB, emergency situations pose special challenges for children with learning and developmental differences. “The sirens, flashing lights, and strange-looking equipment can sometime frighten the children, who may freeze or even flee. Our goal is to expose the kids to the people and the equipment in a calm, fun way so that, should an emergency ever arise, they will know what to expect and will be better able to cooperate with first responders.”

For their part, the town’s first responders have enthusiastically supported the Special Needs Open House. Fire Chief Ronald Kanterman says that all Wilton citizens will interact with emergency services at some point, so having this kind of introduction helps all residents understand the roles and responsibilities of first responders, and give them the opportunity to educate and inform the public on preventative measures, whether it’s crime prevention, fire prevention, or any other area of community risk reduction.

“Meeting with special needs children and adults allows us to perhaps break any fears they may have of uniformed personnel, our protective equipment, trucks, etc. Specifically in a fire, children tend to run away from the ‘one-eyed monster’ (a firefighter wearing a breathing mask of which the regulator makes a loud Darth Vader-like whooshing sound). We dress out a firefighter during these visits in order to ease fears and to encourage children to go to the firefighter rather than hide. The firefighters and police officers that serve Wilton enjoy these visits and look forward interacting with our customers.”

Children and families who attend the Open House will be able to walk around the fire and police departments and see the various vehicles and equipment that might be used in the event of an emergency. Police and firefighters, as well as PAB members, will be nearby to answer any questions from the children and their parents.

In addition, the Wilton volunteer EMS team members will be on hand to offer the children a tour of the town’s back-up ambulance and to show them some of the equipment that may be used in an emergency.  LePage, who is a pediatrician, feels that this effort will be especially beneficial for “the medically fragile children in the community.”

This Open House is just the latest in a series of efforts on the part of the town’s first responders and the PAB. In 2014,  LePage and PAB Board member Maggie Felz contacted the police department to communicate the PAB’s concerns about the special needs population, particularly in terms of children who wander and emergency response. The police did more than listen; they voluntarily undertook a day-long, professionally-led training session about working with special needs children and adults.

In 2015, the two groups again worked together to develop and finalize a process through which parents can register their children in the town’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, which is used for emergency alerts. Parents who register their children provide the child’s name and address, a brief description of his or her disability, and, if desired, a recent photograph.

With this information in the system, police will know at the time of the emergency if a given house has a child with a hearing impairment, intellectual disability, communication disorder or other learning difference. This information could prove lifesaving in the event of an emergency. Parents who have not already registered their special needs child in the CAD system can do so at the first responders Open House.

For her part, LePage feels incredibly lucky to be working with the town’s police, firefighters and EMTs, who have been so willing to do their part to address the issues that special needs families face during emergencies. “I am beyond impressed with how accommodating and supportive our first responders have been. We are so fortunate to live in this community,” she says.

To thank the first responders for hosting this Open House, the PAB is bringing them lunch, which has been prepared by the Village Market.

The PAB is comprised of parents of children receiving special services in Wilton; PTA Special Education representatives; administrators from Wilton’s five schools; and representatives from Wilton Special Services. Its mission is to improve communication, education and trust among parents of children with special needs and the Wilton Public School staff and administration. Through its web site and programs, the PAB strives to help parents understand the special education process and communicate more effectively with teachers and teams. The PAB also works to improve the level of understanding of children with special needs and the services they receive within the Wilton Schools and the community.

To find out more about the PAB and its sponsored events, visit the PAB website or contact them via email.

The story has been updated to include a quote from fire chief Ronald Kanterman.