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First responders train to help disabled people in disaster

Emergency medical service

Whitestown –  When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, Emergency Services Director Kevin W. Revere said a viral image of nursing home residents wheelchair-deep in water changed the way Oneida County responds to disabled peoples during emergencies.

“There’s a lot more conversation going on,” Revere said on Wednesday.

“It’s all about communication, between emergency management, the first-responders, these agencies and the clientele too.”

As part of the new conversations and procedures, a two-day training session was held this week at the State Preparedness Training Center to teach local treatment personnel how best to respond and interact with disabled people in a crisis. The class was held for employees of such agencies as Upstate Cerebral Palsy, Betsy Ross Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, the Utica Fire Department and the Eastern Air Defense Sector, among others.

“The ultimate goal is that we have the county emergency management offices coming together with the disability community to have ongoing, monthly planning and preparedness councils or advisory groups,” said David V. Whalen, the lecturer.

“We’re teaching them how to understand the disabilities, and we’re also teaching them how to pull together the process of proper response.”

Whalen is the project director of the First Responder Disability Awareness Training group from Niagara University near Niagara Falls. He said he is using grant money from the New York State Development Disabilities Planning Council to tour the state giving classes to first-responders and emergency management personnel in how to properly treat disabled people.

The biggest problem, Whalen said, is that emergency personnel “don’t recognize or understand the disabilities. They don’t know how to identify it. They’ll respond to a disability not knowing it’s a disability.”

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