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    Default Hearing Impaired/Deaf Fire Fighters

    Hi All,
    My volunteer fire company has a hearing impaired individual interested in running calls. We don't know what to do and are looking for what other companies have done and if anyone else has run into the same situation? Are there any services out their for sign language for training and such? In our area its about $50 an hour for someone to sign at a class plus travel expenses.

    I'm sure my department isn't the only one thats run into this, any help/advise would be greatly appreciated.
    Last edited by jc29ems; 12-06-2007 at 04:07 PM.

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    First of it is Deaf not Death. My aunt and uncle are both 100% deaf from birth, so I know ASL. I would contact your local school for the Deaf, or contact your state school for the deaf, the teachers are always looking for some extra cash on the sides.

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    If they're dead we don't take em... that's the main requirement actually, a pulse.

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    Give me a few days. We have a deaf FF at my part-time job, who also set up a program for deaf FF's. I'm away on military leave right now, so I'll get you phone number in a few days. JT
    A Fire Chief has ONLY 1 JOB and that's to take care of his fireman. EVERYTHING else falls under this.

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    If you don't mind, please let us know what part of the Country you're in, that would be a help to anyone who might be able to get info for you.
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    Does he go inside?
    How would he hear a vic? Or a mayday? Or the evac. order?
    Last edited by BLSboy; 12-06-2007 at 04:14 PM.
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    Info headed your way , We have a very active program in this arena.. My program director ( Amber - Southhaven2786) will be responding shortly.
    Last edited by Chief2701; 12-06-2007 at 12:46 PM.
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    Default Deaf Firefighters... they're out there!

    Hey there-
    Just wanted to reply to your questions about deaf firefighters. Yes, they are out there folks. Currently, there are 39 deaf firefighters in the U.S. We were fortunate enough to have one of them at our station this fall presenting his non-verbal communication class to firefighters from our department as well as our Firefighter I/II class. His name is Neil McDevitt and he is the CEPIN Program Director. CEPIN is the Community Emergency Prepardness Information Network. Neil has been a firefighter for the past few years and he taught the members of the South Haven fire department in Valparaiso, IN, quite a few things about communicating not only between deaf and hard of hearing members of the community, but between ourselves. How many times have we needed to communicate with one another and the radio traffic has been impossible to hear one another. One really neat thing is that Neil taught us signs for tools, such as a halligan or a fan. Neil explained his role as a firefighter with the Montgomery Twp fire dept located just outside Philly. Everyone walked away with a different perspective on how we can all work together. Perhaps Neil doesn't go inside a fire during suppression, but he's outside pulling hose, getting tools and being the backbone of the operation while others are inside the structure. We look forward to him coming back next year.

    We have started the Eye on Fire Safety program at the South Haven fire dept. We've been learning sign language at the station and have been passing out flashing smoke and flashing carbon monoxide detectors to everyone who needs them. We're looking forward to doing a few one-day fire safety camps at the fire station for deaf and hard of hearing children next Spring. If you have any questions or would like any information, please let me know. You can also check out www.deaffirefighter.blogspot.com for more information from deaf firefighters. Neil can be reached at nmcdevitt@cepintdi.org if you'd like to chat with him. He can give you the best information first hand, and he is awesome! Take care, be safe, Amber

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    The gentleman I was speaking of is the same as Southhaven mentioned. Neil is a great asset, and has been duely recognized for his efforts. I believe he joined in 2003 (prior to me be hired, so don't quote me), and he also continues to be an active member of the deparment. He has had numerous articles posted locally, and I'm sure there are more that I am unaware of.
    A Fire Chief has ONLY 1 JOB and that's to take care of his fireman. EVERYTHING else falls under this.

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    Our department is completely volunteer and like many volunteer fire companies, funding is limited so we cannot afford to have an interpreter for this gentleman at classes. We are located in Pennsylvania. We are looking for other companies that have run into the same problem and how they handled it.

    This gentleman is a new member, been around the fire service before but doesn't have any knowledge of the actual fire service nor does he have training.

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    I repeat my question, with a few added ones.
    Does he go inside? How would he hear a vic? Or a mayday? Or the evac. order? Or the order to charge the line?
    For that matter, how would he hear the pager go off?
    These are all serious questions, NOT facetious ones, and I, for one would like answers, rather then "he is a great asset" and so on. How does he perform as well as a "regular", for lack of better terms, firefighter, when he has a major impediment.
    No malice is directed to Brother McDevitt, but how can he do the job as effectivly?
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    Quote Originally Posted by BLSboy View Post
    I repeat my question, with a few added ones.
    Does he go inside? How would he hear a vic? Or a mayday? Or the evac. order? Or the order to charge the line?
    For that matter, how would he hear the pager go off?
    These are all serious questions, NOT facetious ones, and I, for one would like answers, rather then "he is a great asset" and so on. How does he perform as well as a "regular", for lack of better terms, firefighter, when he has a major impediment.
    No malice is directed to Brother McDevitt, but how can he do the job as effectivly?
    Right now, no he doesn't go inside, he isn't even allowed to respond on calls because he doesn't have the required basic training. He wouldn't be able to hear a vic, a mayday or an evac. Anything to do with hearing he can't do. Yes he might not hear his pager go off so that might be one way but what if he's sitting at the station. Just looking for some possibilities because it has been being discussed in the company.
    Last edited by jc29ems; 12-06-2007 at 04:25 PM.

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    So then he is not a firefighter. At best, he can run rehab.

    Sorry if I seem like an @sshole, but guess what, if you cant do the job, you cant do it. Sorry. No matter how much your heart is in it, if you are a liability (not a complacent liability, like ChiFF ) then you have no buisness on the fire ground. Part of my FF physical is a hearing test.
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    He wants to be a fire fighter so what we are trying to do is see if there is any way out there for what other departments have done. Yes I agree with you, if he can't hear, he can't talk, he can't be a interior fire fighter but some beg to differ and I am just trying to cover all angles here.
    Last edited by jc29ems; 12-06-2007 at 10:14 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BLSboy View Post
    So then he is not a firefighter. At best, he can run rehab.

    Sorry if I seem like an @sshole, but guess what, if you cant do the job, you cant do it. Sorry. No matter how much your heart is in it, if you are a liability (not a complacent liability, like ChiFF ) then you have no buisness on the fire ground. Part of my FF physical is a hearing test.
    Damn, you are an @sshole, and an ignorant one at that!! Why don't you educate yourself a little bit and email Neil, and ask him yourself??? So you are 100% physically perfect?? Doubt it!! Speaking of liability, a firefighter who fails to educate themself is a liability; ever think of that??
    A Fire Chief has ONLY 1 JOB and that's to take care of his fireman. EVERYTHING else falls under this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTFIRE80 View Post
    Damn, you are an @sshole, and an ignorant one at that!! Why don't you educate yourself a little bit and email Neil, and ask him yourself??? So you are 100% physically perfect?? Doubt it!! Speaking of liability, a firefighter who fails to educate themself is a liability; ever think of that??
    Sorry, I asked my questions first. You answer. Please, educate me.
    And tell me how my lack of knowlage of deaf firefighters makes me a liability. I would rather educate myself on building construction, fire attack stratagies, and do pre planning.
    Am I 100% physically perfect? Nope. But I passed my physical, as set forth by the Florida State Fire Marshalls office, Fire Training and Standards Division.

    That included a hearing test. Why? So I can do little things like, oh, hear that I have a call.
    Hear the call for water, or evac.
    Whats next, a blind "fireman"? Or how about a dumb one?
    Where do we drawl the line?
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    Or how about a dumb one?
    Got a whole bunch of those. Including those ignorant of the hearing impaired.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    Alright, y'all; simmer down a bit, pull up a chair and let's have a chat.

    Hey, JT, Doug, and 2786!

    To be honest, the questions you raise are excellent questions. The only answer I have for you is simple: Train the guy as hard as you can and be creative when it comes to working on the job.

    Am I trained to do interior work? Yes, I have my FF1 cert and too many others to really mention at this point. Do I put myself in the front of the line and sucker-punch the dude trying to take the nozzle? No. Even though I have training and confidence in my abilities, I take the rear-most position when I go on calls.

    Unlike 18-year-old guys who have a boner for getting "crust" on the leather helmet grandma and grandpa gave them at christmas along with a "WE FIGHT WHAT YOU FEAR" sticker on their 1987 Dodge Ranger pickup truck, I actually feel more comfortable humping hose, raising ladders, go-fering, etc..

    Does that mean I'll accept that blindly on every job? No. As firefighters, we always have to challenge ourselves to push beyond what our body/mind are telling us and get the job done. If the Lt. tells me to get my *** in there and do a primary search, then that's what I'm going to do to the best of my ability. If I get in trouble, I know how to key up the radio and call out my situation.

    If I or my officers feel that a situation is too dangerous for me, then we'll speak up and say so. Any disagreement will be put on hold and discussed after the run. Sound familiar? It's the same mental process we have to do every time we get an order.

    The difference for me is this: I know, accept, and am fully aware of my limits. How many firefighters do you know are blind without glasses but take them off to put the SCBA mask on? How many firefighters turn up the TV a whole bunch of extra notches because they have a ringing in their ears? How firefighters do you know have size 52 bunker gear and are never seen without a Big Mac in their hands then wheeze and bitch and moan that they're getting "too old for this *****?"

    When people ask about people with disabilities serving on fire departments, I tell them this: Do the math. In this day and age of scraping-by in terms of volunteerism, you need to look at the individual and the skills and talents they bring to the table and figure out how to best take full advantage of those skills and talents. Don't we already do that with the "senior" firefighters?

    A person with cognitive disabilities may be tasked with repetitive duties on the fireground such as helping the guy at the air refilling station with the cylinders. Another job may be for a person with mobility impairments to keep a written record of radio transmissions for the IC. The list goes on.

    Now, granted, they may not be interior firefighters, but doesn't each and every person working toward the same goal deserve to be called that?

    Now, to answer some of your specific questions:

    1) Our pagers in MontCo are alphanumeric pagers with vibrate functions.

    2) We have a simple system for no-visibility situations:
    1-tap = Stop
    2-taps = Go
    3-taps = GTFO (get the 'f' out)

    3) The question re: interpreters is a valid one. I was lucky enough to win a $1000 grant for the fire department from my previous employer and the Department allocated those funds toward interpreters to be used during trainings. There are a few sources of income that you can use:
    a) PA State Relief funds can be used to pay for interpreters at trainings.
    b) If the training is provided outside the department by the fire academy, they're required by law to provide the interpreters. Since most fire academies are affiliated with county or community colleges, they usually have the resources for this type of thing.
    c) Apply for grants or fundraising to cover those costs.

    4) What you should do is set up a yearly review process that takes into account the individual's training and their skills. For example, the first year, he'll limited just like any other probie without prior experience. Second year after he gets FF1, you may say, "OK, exterior work and overhaul". If he does really well and gains the trust of the folks, then adjust accordingly. Don't do this sort of thing 3 years from now. Do it at the outset.

    I would also encourage you do it for EVERY firefighter within reason. It makes sense as a good risk management program. We don't do it at my station although I've suggested it a few times before.

    JC, get in touch with me via email in 2786's post and I'd be happy to discuss further with you. If you're near MontCoPA, maybe I can take a trip and chat with you folks.

    Let me end this by going back to a point I made a moment ago: As firefighters, we're called upon to challenge ourselves. Perhaps its time for us to challenge our perceptions on letting people who are "different" take on this job? After all, didn't we used to think SCBAs were "optional?"

    CORRECTION: My blog is at: http://blog.deafread.com/deaffirefighter
    -Neil
    Last edited by NeilMcD; 12-06-2007 at 08:51 PM.

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    Neil

    Outstanding and informative post thank you very much. You raise a fresh perspective for everyone to consider.

    Kia Kaha.

    BS Boy.
    Got a whole bunch of those. Including those ignorant of the hearing impaired.
    Now that right there is a well deserved
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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyingKiwi View Post
    Neil

    Outstanding and informative post thank you very much. You raise a fresh perspective for everyone to consider.

    Kia Kaha.

    BS Boy.


    Now that right there is a well deserved
    SMACK DOWN.
    Thanks. Having a 10 yoa hearing impaired son is enough to make me smack down ignorant morons. You notice it took me several days to post. I had to be a little calmer so I didn't pick up my second Purple Hydrant.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMcD View Post
    Alright, y'all; simmer down a bit, pull up a chair and let's have a chat.

    Hey, JT, Doug, and 2786!

    To be honest, the questions you raise are excellent questions. The only answer I have for you is simple: Train the guy as hard as you can and be creative when it comes to working on the job.

    Am I trained to do interior work? Yes, I have my FF1 cert and too many others to really mention at this point. Do I put myself in the front of the line and sucker-punch the dude trying to take the nozzle? No. Even though I have training and confidence in my abilities, I take the rear-most position when I go on calls.

    Unlike 18-year-old guys who have a boner for getting "crust" on the leather helmet grandma and grandpa gave them at christmas along with a "WE FIGHT WHAT YOU FEAR" sticker on their 1987 Dodge Ranger pickup truck, I actually feel more comfortable humping hose, raising ladders, go-fering, etc..

    Does that mean I'll accept that blindly on every job? No. As firefighters, we always have to challenge ourselves to push beyond what our body/mind are telling us and get the job done. If the Lt. tells me to get my *** in there and do a primary search, then that's what I'm going to do to the best of my ability. If I get in trouble, I know how to key up the radio and call out my situation.

    If I or my officers feel that a situation is too dangerous for me, then we'll speak up and say so. Any disagreement will be put on hold and discussed after the run. Sound familiar? It's the same mental process we have to do every time we get an order.

    The difference for me is this: I know, accept, and am fully aware of my limits. How many firefighters do you know are blind without glasses but take them off to put the SCBA mask on? How many firefighters turn up the TV a whole bunch of extra notches because they have a ringing in their ears? How firefighters do you know have size 52 bunker gear and are never seen without a Big Mac in their hands then wheeze and bitch and moan that they're getting "too old for this *****?"

    When people ask about people with disabilities serving on fire departments, I tell them this: Do the math. In this day and age of scraping-by in terms of volunteerism, you need to look at the individual and the skills and talents they bring to the table and figure out how to best take full advantage of those skills and talents. Don't we already do that with the "senior" firefighters?

    A person with cognitive disabilities may be tasked with repetitive duties on the fireground such as helping the guy at the air refilling station with the cylinders. Another job may be for a person with mobility impairments to keep a written record of radio transmissions for the IC. The list goes on.

    Now, granted, they may not be interior firefighters, but doesn't each and every person working toward the same goal deserve to be called that?

    Now, to answer some of your specific questions:

    1) Our pagers in MontCo are alphanumeric pagers with vibrate functions.

    2) We have a simple system for no-visibility situations:
    1-tap = Stop
    2-taps = Go
    3-taps = GTFO (get the 'f' out)

    3) The question re: interpreters is a valid one. I was lucky enough to win a $1000 grant for the fire department from my previous employer and the Department allocated those funds toward interpreters to be used during trainings. There are a few sources of income that you can use:
    a) PA State Relief funds can be used to pay for interpreters at trainings.
    b) If the training is provided outside the department by the fire academy, they're required by law to provide the interpreters. Since most fire academies are affiliated with county or community colleges, they usually have the resources for this type of thing.
    c) Apply for grants or fundraising to cover those costs.

    4) What you should do is set up a yearly review process that takes into account the individual's training and their skills. For example, the first year, he'll limited just like any other probie without prior experience. Second year after he gets FF1, you may say, "OK, exterior work and overhaul". If he does really well and gains the trust of the folks, then adjust accordingly. Don't do this sort of thing 3 years from now. Do it at the outset.

    I would also encourage you do it for EVERY firefighter within reason. It makes sense as a good risk management program. We don't do it at my station although I've suggested it a few times before.

    JC, get in touch with me via email in 2786's post and I'd be happy to discuss further with you. If you're near MontCoPA, maybe I can take a trip and chat with you folks.

    Let me end this by going back to a point I made a moment ago: As firefighters, we're called upon to challenge ourselves. Perhaps its time for us to challenge our perceptions on letting people who are "different" take on this job? After all, didn't we used to think SCBAs were "optional?"

    CORRECTION: My blog is at: http://blog.deafread.com/deaffirefighter
    -Neil
    Thanks, Neil. The blog is a fascinating insight into your world.

    I found the piece on law enforcement interaction with the deaf very interesting. I remember handling (or trying to handle) an EMS job in a group home with about 12 deaf folks. It was a seizure call so it was kind of scary for them. The frustration level for them not being able to communicate with us because we did not know even a few phrases in ASL was palpable.

    You're an inspiration. Thanks again.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    Well, I guess that if we don't just say yes to this issue, we're all just ignorant.

    It is an interesting topic, and one that brings about a lot of thought. I guess the question that comes to my mind, is what are we supposed to do when we work alone, or when we work and can't maintain physical contact?
    These are some real concerns, not just for us, but for the non-hearing firefighter as well. As a matter of routine, we work inside in a way in which voice contact is essential. Virtually without exception, voice contact is the marker for a firefighter conducting a search to know the way out.
    I have said it before, I don't care who I work with. My only requirement is that my partner be able to perform ALL aspects of the job, and be there for me, as I am for them. Whoever that is, I do not care. I just want someone with whom I can trust.
    If a non-hearing person can perform all aspects of the job, let them in.

    Communication lies at the center of how we do our job, day in and day out. Talking about this does not make us insensitive, it makes us interested. I would be very interested in knowing how a non-hearing person could interact with us while doing an interior search, in which voice contact is our only means of communicating. It's something that is done at a majority of fires we work here. It is also an integral part of our truck operations.

    It is interesting though, that there is only a requirement for vision with my department. As far as I can tell, there is no minimum requirement for an applicants ability to hear.
    Last edited by jasper45; 12-06-2007 at 10:08 PM. Reason: spelling

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    Neil: That was an excellent and informative post. I'll be honest, when I read the initial post, I had doubts of how an FD could have a deaf FF. That was mostly because I have had very little interaction with the deaf. Your community is truly lucky to have such an open minded FD and a dedicated member such as yourself.

    Thanks for sharing your story.
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    Jasper;

    I don't think having a contrary opinion makes you ignorant. In fact, in my eyes, it makes you a critical thinker and that's good. If a person comes to your department, I'd love to see you sitting down and talking about the "what ifs" with the person and coming up with solutions.

    The problem I see time and time again is people being dismissed outright or being put into a position where their skills and talents are wasted because of stereotypes and misconceptions.

    Ken and George;

    My motivation to be a firefighter is just the same as yours. Doing something different and dangerous every day is more attractive than pushing paper or serving on some volunteer committee. I don't look at myself as any different than you are (besides the obvious, I mean). I don't view myself as "unique" in any way.

    This touches on a point that I didn't bring up earlier: there are many deaf and hard of hearing firefighters in the country. I would estimate there to be about 40 "DEAF" firefighters in the country today. Some of them are like me: interior-certified, some are wildland-only. I know of one who was Chief Engineer for his department. I know another was an EMS officer and firefighter.

    -N

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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMcD View Post
    The problem I see time and time again is people being dismissed outright or being put into a position where their skills and talents are wasted because of stereotypes and misconceptions.

    No argument here.
    I sometimes forget that people present their opinions from a volunteer perspective. I offer an opinion from my perspective, and that is where my thinking stems from.
    We don't have the benefit of having people be interior or exterior 'qualified'. We have firefighters, in which every member is supposed to be all 'qualified'. What that means is that every member could work in any position, be it on an engine or a truck company, be it thru over time, shift trade, regular or short relief.

    Some potential problems that I could see here, even if we worked out the kinks with a non-hearing member in my company, is what happens when they are detailed to a different company? A company in which the members there may not know the individual can't hear.
    In fairness to all members, regular and short relief details have to handed out equally, and I'm quite confident that a non-hearing member would want no special treatment.

    I guess my question would be directed to you then; how would you be able to communicate with other members of your company, via voice only? I realize you could call out to them, but how would you be able to understand them?

    When we search, for instance, one firefighter will remain at the stairs, or the way in/out. The other two members then search alone, remaining in voice contact with the member at the door. Typically, when we do this style of search there is no visibility. They could hear you, but how could they contact you if they were to get into trouble?

    What is out there for radio communication, if anything for non-hearing members?

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