Hoover first responders complete sensory-inclusive training

Published 11:51 am Monday, May 2, 2022

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HOOVER – First responders in Hoover are equipped to handle emergency calls involving people with sensory needs.

Hoover’s police and fire departments recently partnered with the nonprofit KultureCity to earn sensory-inclusive certification, an initiative aimed at helping first responders better serve all citizens regardless of their sensory needs, mental health challenges or invisible disabilities.

“We’re so excited to partner with them,” Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said during a joint press conference held at the Hoover Police Training Center on Wednesday, April 13. “We’re excited that every police officer in the city of Hoover today has been certified.”

Police vehicles and fire trucks have been stocked with sensory-inclusive items available to those with sensory needs in an emergency situation.

Each sensory bag includes noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards.

In addition, each police vehicle displays a KultureCity decal on the back window.

“The sensory bags are located in every police car that we have,” Derzis said. “To me, it’s just an additional tool in our toolbox if we get in a situation, that we’re better trained and ready to handle these type of things.”

Fire Chief Clay Bentley said the sensory kits and training have made a “tremendous difference” in how his staff members approach patients.

“We have already seen changes and effects in how we treat certain patients,” Bentley said. “Our department has always had personnel that have been trained to a certain level, but what KultureCity has offered for us is consistent training so that all of our members – all 176 of our personnel – are trained to the same level. Not only do they have the skills, ability and knowledge to better treat sensory need patients, they also have sensory kits and different things to help us in those instances.”

HPD Public Information Officer Brian Hale said he has a child who is on the autism spectrum, and praised Derzis and Bentley for their commitment to seeing their departments complete the sensory-inclusive training.

“It’s comforting to me as a father to know that if I need help at my own home, my fellow first responders have been trained and know what to do and will be able to better communicate with somebody on the spectrum or who might have other invisible disabilities,” Hale said.

KultureCity has trained and developed more than 800 sensory-inclusive venues.

The certification process entailed Hoover police officers and firefighters being trained by leading medical professionals on how to recognize someone with sensory needs and how to handle a sensory overload situation.

“For these individuals, what would, to us, be considered a typical encounter with first responders can for them be really confusing and frightening, and that can often lead to an adverse outcome,” KultureCity Board Member Susanne Moore said. “Having first responders trained on how to recognize and de-escalate these situations can literally at times be the difference between life and death for these individuals.”

Sensory sensitivities or challenges with sensory regulation are often experienced by individuals with autism, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other similar conditions, according to a press release.

“One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to overstimulation and noise, which is an enormous part of the environment in a potential emergency situation,” the release read. “With this new training and certification, Hoover first responders are now better prepared to help those with sensory sensitivities stay calm in an otherwise stressful emergency situation.”

Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato also voiced his support of the initiative.

“Not only will this training make them better public servants, it will make them better people, more compassionate, empathetic and knowledgeable about a community in our society that sadly is often forgotten, overlooked or mistreated,” Brocato said. “It takes all of us doing our part to make sure everyone feels included and loved, and I’m proud to lead a city that not only understands this, but takes steps to make it a reality.”