Fire rescue departments training to meet the growing number of cases involving those with autism

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla - Whether it's a fire or a car crash, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officers are finding something new when the calls come in for help.

"There's more times whey they're answering the child or adult has autism," said Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Dispatcher Scott Jurasz.

He instructs first responders about autism at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. It's one of the growing number of  fire rescue departments starting to place more emphasis on the needs of those on the autism spectrum.

For example, they're learning those with autism may not race to get out of a house fire.

"Somebody with autism, adult or child, you might find them curled up in a closet or underneath a bed," he told a class.

Jurasz knows first-hand the unique challenges presented by those on the autism spectrum. He has a five- year-old with autism.

"If it's that hard for us the parents it's got to be that much harder for the first responder who may not have any experience with autism," he said.

The fire rescue officers are learning those with autism can react differently.  For example, if they pull someone on the spectrum from a burning building, they still have to watch them.

"If there's not a caregiver there to help us, you definitely run that risk of them running back into the structure. There's cases all across the the country where it's happened and fatalities have resulted because of it," he said.

They're being taught a similar situation can occur in a car crash after a youngster with autism is rescued from a wreck.

"Stay right here we're going to help mom and dad ok? Stay right there we'll be back with you.' They want to go back to the safe environment. This time it's not the fire, this time it's the car that was just in the accident," he said.

It's not just how they work,  first responders are being told it's the way they work.  They're being taught their tone can affect those on the spectrum.

"Speak slow, calming talk to them. 'What I'm going to do first, next and even after,'" he said.

It all makes for new challenges for first responders.