Ohio responders get lesson in American Sign Language

Some of the words included pain, where, doctor, medicine, breathe, stop, yes, no, hospital, emergency, firefighter and ambulance

Dayton Daily News

FRANKLIN, Ohio — Communication is essential for first responders to assess a situation and help people in an emergency.

It’s even more essential for first responders to be able determine how best to get information from a person who may need medical assistance but is unable to verbalize their problem.

A crew of Franklin firefighters took some time Friday morning, in between alarms, to learn about 20 words in American Sign Language with the help of about a dozen of students and their teacher from Dayton Christian High School’s ASL 2 class.

It was the first time that the school has done something like this with public safety department, said teacher Michal Moore.

“I came up with this idea from my daughters, who are taking American Sign Language as their second language,” said Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf.

His daughter was among the students helping to train firefighters Friday.

Westendorf said he had been on a number of runs over the years where dealing with the deaf community has presented some challenges.

Westendorf said he’s “also seen the comfort and ease that comes across the face of members of the deaf community when they encounter someone else who they can natively communicate with.”

Some of the words included “pain,” “where,” “doctor,” “medicine,” “breathe,” “are you OK?” “stop,” “yes,” “no,” “hospital,” “emergency,” “fireman,” and “ambulance.”

The firefighters learned that upon arriving at a scene, they can communicate with a deaf or hearing impaired person who might be able to read lips, or through ASL, or allowing them to read lips or follow gestures, writing back and forth on a notepad or calling for an interpreter.

Firefighters said they learned once the individual’s communications needs have been analyzed, they need to make whatever accommodation is needed as well as be patient and understanding with the individual.

Among some of the tips the students shared with firefighters were to be in appropriate lighting, speak at a natural pace, don’t over enunciate words or mumble, don’t yell or shout, face the person directly, maintain eye contact and incorporate natural gestures and facial expressions.

Moore said the lack of being able to communicate only heightens an already tense situation and the key is to keep the person as best informed as possible.

In Liberty Twp., firefighters use Language Line for most interpretations of foreign languages, according to Caroline McKinney, township spokeswoman.

“We have some staff that have some basic training in ASL,” she said. “Our first line would be hand-written communication.”

McKinney said firefighters also have some cards that show the ASL characters. She also said the township has a few resources for hearing impaired community members too, but there would obviously be a little time delay in getting them to a scene.

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