Information for fire fighters

When a team of fire fighters responds to a call, there is usually a dangerous situation at hand. Upon reaching the scene it is critical for these first responders to immediately get to work in order to keep the people in these situations safe. When encountering a person with an autism spectrum disorder, the fire fighters may need to adjust their emergency response accordingly.

In situations where the person may be at risk, it is vital that the fire fighters be able to identify certain signs that may indicate that the person has autism. The proper training and knowledge of autism will help the fire fighters to deal with the emergency in the most successful way. With the correct information and preparation regarding autism spectrum disorders, these fire fighters will be more equipped to rescue them and ensure their safety.

Quick facts for fire fighters

  • People with autism can't be identified by appearance. They look the same as anyone else. They're identified by their behavior.
  • Some people with autism do not have a typical range of sensations and may not feel the cold, heat, or pain in a typical manner. In fact they may fail to acknowledge pain in spite of significant pathology being present. They may show an unusual pain response that could include laughter, humming, singing and removing of clothing.
  • Speak in short clear phrases “Get in.” “Sit Down.” “Wait here.” An people with autism may take longer to respond to directives, and that can be because they don't understand what's being demanded of them, or even just because they're scared, they may not be able to process the language and understand a directive when fearful.
  • When restraint is necessary during fire emergency, be aware that many people with autism may have a poorly developed upper trunk area. Positional asphyxiation could occur if steps are not taken to prevent it: frequent change of position, not keeping them face down. People with autism may continue to resist restraint during a fire emergency.
  • Adults with autism are just as likely to hide, like children, in a fire situation. Closets, under bed and behind furniture checks need to be done during search and rescue.
  • People with autism are a wandering or bolt risk after rescue. Firefighter must stay with the person with autism or hand off to another caregiver.

Cannata, W. (2007). Autism 101 for Fire and Rescue, from SPEAK website:

Resources for fire fighters