Mattapoisett Fire receives special training in autism awareness

Apr 18, 2022

MATTAPOISETT — Being trapped in an accident and needing to be rescued using the Jaws of Life can be terrifying for anyone.

But for a person with autism, dealing with such noise and trauma can be “catastrophic,’’ Mattapoisett Fire Capt. Justin Dubois explained.

He is among the Mattapoisett firefighters who have received special training in dealing with individuals with autism in emergency situations. Most of the department has received this instruction, he said.

Through the training, department members learn that “the way we need to approach the situation is unique’’ and are “better able to recognize’’ the signs that a person has autism.

Although April is Autism Awareness Month, the department works year-round to appreciate the sensitivities of people on the autism spectrum.

Engine 1, which responds first to most emergencies, includes a sensory kit with items that can help calm people with autism during a crisis. 

The items can provide comfort and distraction to people as they cope with an emergency. 

Helmets also feature stickers that alert people to the department’s commitment to autism awareness. 

Awareness is key, Dubois said. 

Even something as seemingly innocuous as bright lights can be triggering for people with autism, he said. Loud noises can also be an issue.

This stimulation can frighten a person to the point of putting them in danger. “Some people will try to take off,’’ he said. 

In a small town such as Mattapoisett, Dubois noted, emergency personnel often know the residents and might be familiar with those who have autism. 

But not every person the department deals with lives in town.

“We get a lot of visitors to our town, especially in the summer,’’ he said.

Also, a section of Route 195 crosses through town, with vehicles carrying people from throughout the state and beyond.  

“In the next 10 minutes, there could be a motor vehicle crash and the person has autism,’’ he said. 

Mattapoisett Fire is also called on at times to provide mutual aid to nearby communities.

“Every day, we’re dealing with people we don’t know,’’ he said. “We need to be capable of handling any situation as it arises.’’