A brightly painted lifeguard tower adorned with hearts of various colors was officially unveiled Friday on Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey, highlighting a county program to better equip first-responders with tools to interact with children and adults with autism.
The program implemented by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, “Sirens of Silence,” began roughly a month ago, providing specialized training for firefighters, paramedics and lifeguards.
Sirens of Silence “is a comprehensive program aimed at making sure our first responders here in L.A. County can not only recognize when they are interacting with someone with autism, but also have all the tools and training they need to help them effectively and keep them safe,” county Supervisor Janice Hahn said at an event on Mother's Beach.
Get Southern California news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC LA newsletters.
“A child with autism may not respond well to commands,” she said.
“They may not acknowledge pain, or they may have an unexpected reaction to pain. They may be overwhelmed by loud noises or run away even after they've been rescued. We also know that children with autism are more likely to wander and can end up in dangerous situations far away from their parents or their caregivers.”
The lifeguard tower was painted by county lifeguard Scott Snyder, featuring a series of floating hearts on a clear background, with the various colored hearts signifying a “unified effort” to recognize and respond to children and adults with autism. According to the fire department, the light blue hearts represent the color in the county's logo and the color of the ocean, while the darker blue represents the uniforms of first responders, and the red and gold hearts symbolize the fire department's official colors.
Fire Chief Daryl Osby noted that the Sirens of Silence program was developed by two department members who have children with autism.
“We know that one in every 54 children are diagnosed with some form of autism or special needs, so it's highly likely that our first responders, our firefighters, our lifeguards have interacted with someone with a special needs challenge,” Osby said.
“... Since we've implemented this program last month, we've already received amazing feedback from individuals that have gone on calls that have talked about how this training, how these tools have made a positive difference in our service delivery in emergencies.”
According to the department, the Sirens of Silence program includes educational training and information for first responders, special needs-friendly events and safety-related and sensory-sensitive items available for patients.