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Registry, Training Proposed to Help Autistic Fire Victims

The Boston City Council mulled a plan to create a volunteer registry of autistic residents, which first responders could use to help rescue special needs residents during a fire.

proposed creating a voluntary registry that would help identify individuals with special needs to rescue workers at a rescue situation. Consalvo made the proposal at Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Consalvo said he's working with Bill Cannata on the issue. Cannata is the statewide coordinator for the Autism & Law Enforcement Coalition of the Family Autism Center. Cannata, a Westwood firefighter, was featured in a "Today Show" segment about rescue workers saving kids with special needs. 

Autistic children sometimes resist rescue attempts

Consalvo recounted a story Cannata told him that emphasized why rescue respondents need training on how to work with special needs individuals.

"An 18- or 19-year-old autistic person was told by his parents to never leave the house without clothes on," he said. "The house was fully engulfed. [Rescuers] found him without a shirt in his bedroom. He fought the rescue, and they finally got him out of the house and got him to safety. He broke free from safety and went back into house because he had been told to never leave during that situation without a shirt... They got him and he was safe. And got him a shirt."

Consalvo said Cannata would be instrumental in developing tools and procedures to help first responders deal with autistic children during crisis situations.

"[Cannata] goes around counties and trains fire departments on how to rescue people with autism ... He has an autistic child, and you need to do specific things to get an autistic child out of a fire. Many times they don’t want to leave the house."

Boston Fire and EMS are now coordinating training for first responders to educate them on rescuing special needs individuals, said Consalvo.

"It’s great they are rescuing, but how do they know when responding to a fire there is an autistic person in that structure?" he asked.

Voluntary system would send information, instructions to first responders

Other cities and states have a unified central volunteer registry, and not just for autistic indidviduals, said Consalvo. The councilor said he envisions a volunteer special needs registry. Parents or guardians would volunteer information, which would be kept at Boston's 911 operations center. Dispatchers could send pertinent information and instructions to rescuers during fires.

He said the registry would also apply to people with cerebral palsy, those who are wheelchair-bound, elderly residents who need help moving, and other individuals special needs. 

"When going to a fire, the info would come up in the firefighter cabs with info on how to be fully prepared and deal with special circumstances to rescue a special needs someone. It could be an incident in a power outage in Back Bay, or a major national disaster," said Consalvo.

He added Boston already has the existing capabilities and framework to create the registry.

"In a voluntary capacity I thnk people would do this. No matter what your special need is. It would be fully voluntary. No one would have access to registry except for rescue personnel," said Consalvo.

The ordinance was referred to the Committee on Public Safety where they will review and are expected to set a date for a hearing to establish the registry. 

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