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Alpine Township, MI: Firefighters have kits to calm kids with autism

June 19, 2023, WOOD TV, Grand Rapids, MI: Alpine Township firefighters get tools to calm children with autism

ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Sirens, flashing lights and commotion are all common at an emergency scene. For a child on the autism spectrum, it can be more than frightening.

“The term that comes first to mind is sensory overload,” Alpine Township Deputy Fire Chief Jeremy Kelly said. “You can sometimes see them just rev right up in their stress level and their response to what’s going on. “

Alpine Township firefighters now have a way to calm the situation. It’s a bag full of trinkets, from clickers to fidget wheels.

“Just a lot of things they can play with,” Kelly said as he went through items in the bag Monday.

Along with toys and other distractions, the kit includes sunglasses to diffuse flashing lights and noise-blocking earmuffs.

“Ear protection they can put on just to drown out some of that noise,” Kelly said.

Carter Kits contain toys and sensory protection for first responders to give to children with autism at emergency scenes.

They’re called Carter Kits, named after the son on a police officer on the east side of the state who has autism. Family friend and Saginaw firefighter Brandon Hausbeck is president of the nonprofit that supplies the kits to EMS providers across 36 states and counting.

“I look back now at some of the calls I ran over the years and it hit me, I bet this person had autism. I bet that person had autism,” Hausbeck said.

The effort goes well beyond what’s in the kits.

Alpine Township is the first EMS responder in Kent County to be to trained on how to identify and engage with those with sensory disorders. Five Alpine Township fire rigs that respond to EMS calls will now have the Carter Kits on board.

While Alpine is the first, Kent Emergency Medical Services, the medical control authority for 39 EMS agencies in Kent and Ottawa County, says more department are expected to complete the training and receive the kits.

“Our job is not just to respond to fires. It’s far beyond that,” Hausbeck said. “Part of it is making sure we prepare ourselves with anyone we come into contact with, including those with autism.”

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