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PHOTOS BY CIERA HUGHES Franklin first responders undergo training on interacting with community members who have autism.

Franklin County first responders receive autism training

For the first time, first responders in Franklin County held a two-day training seminar Wednesday and Thursday to learn how to interact with community members with autism while maintaining a safe environment.

Interaction Advisory Group co-founder and president Dustin Chandler said he first began hosting these trainings in 2015 but never came any closer to Franklin County than Walker County and Madison County.

“I’m constantly hearing from first responders how important these trainings are and how there should be more of them,” Chandler said. “I was a police officer for many years, and you don’t get any training like this when you go through the academy.”

Chandler hosted the same session each day to accommodate first responders’ hectic schedules. About 35 first responders attended each session, representing all parts of Franklin County – including Russellville Police, Russellville Fire, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Red Bay Police and volunteer fire departments throughout the county.

“We wanted to have this training because we didn’t want some situations to escalate like they might have in other areas in the past,” explained Russellville fire marshal Justin Green.

Green said he learned dealing with someone who is autistic is different because the first responder is forced to look at the situation differently than how he or she instinctively would.

He said this training allows first responders to be educated and then educate others how to ensure officer safety, public safety and patient safety.

“People with autism are really just humans who have a few problems, but we all have problems,” Chandler said.

Chandler said no two interactions will be the same, so it is important first responders learn to communicate and educate themselves on different sensory challenges. He said he also educated first responders on where to look if someone with autism wanders.

Chandler said it is crucial for first responders to be able to safely serve each member of the community, and this training helps unite the community.

“We always say ‘educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,’ and that’s an Aristotle quote,” Chandler said. “We not only want to teach them how to be safe and the best practices to remain safe, but we also want to teach them a little bit about the community.”