For young children, police officers and firefighters are often regarded with awe. But children’s books and television shows don’t always prepare children to interact with first responders in a true emergency.

Medical Emergencies

illustration of ambulance for kids

 

Seeing a parent or loved one deal with a medical emergency can be a scary moment for any child. But as Assistant Chief Jim Maloney of the Oneonta Fire Department in upstate New York points out, understanding the job of an EMT can help make the experience less frightening.

“Some of the things a child might see us doing could be alarming,” Maloney noted. An awareness of things that first responders might do to help someone who is ill or injured – including removing the patient’s clothes, hooking up heart monitors, or using an automated external defibrillator – can help put a child at ease during an emergency.

Considering the prevalence of auto accidents, it’s prudent for parents to expose kids to the possibility of being present for events such as these. (For the same reason, consider installing a seat buckle holder to your child’s seat belt. It makes it easily accessible for first responders in the event of an emergency.)

LulaBloc seatbelt holder helps kids and emergency professionals buckle and buckle quickly

Talking to children in an age-appropriate way when ambulances are seen and heard can reinforce a child’s awareness about what emergency medical care might look like.

“A heart monitor, blood pressure cuff, tourniquet – just giving kids a chance to see this kind of equipment can help put them at ease,” explained Brian Davis, a veteran police officer with the Delhi Police Department in upstate New York. “We want them to see that these things aren’t scary, that it’s just part of how we help people.”

“Touch-A-Truck” events, or other community outreach events that feature first responders, can give children and their parents the opportunity to get hands-on with this and other equipment. Parents can also contact their local fire station to arrange a visit or tour.

As Maloney points out, there are a lot of other ways for children to absorb information about the roles of first responders. “Kids learn in different ways – they have different degrees of emotional intelligence,” Maloney noted. For some children, reading books about first responders may have more of an impact than walking into an ambulance; for other children, the chance to ask questions one-on-one may be more meaningful than hearing a presentation in a group setting.

“Bottom line is, parents know their own children, and can think about how that child is best going to be able to learn or understand something,” Maloney said.

Another thing that may surprise children, and even their parents, is seeing a fire truck respond to a medical or other non-fire emergency. Residents expecting to see an ambulance or medical transport vehicle are sometimes also greeted by “five or six gear-laden firefighters and/or ambulance personnel arriving on the scene, regardless of whether there’s a fire, stroke, or a heart attack in progress,” as Phil Keisling of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University described in a 2015 article.

This may be frightening or confusing to young children, who associate fire engines with, well, fires. But the National Fire Protection Association reported that, in 2015, more than two-thirds of the fire department calls nationwide were for medical aid.

This means that when children see or hear a fire truck, it’s actually more likely that the firefighters are responding to a medical emergency rather than a fire. Making children aware of the many roles firefighters play in the community can help them understand why a fire engine is on the scene at a car accident or other places where there is no fire.


Lulakids seatbelt bloc for kids and carseat clipsParent Co. partnered with LulaKids because they believe in bringing kids along for the ride.


Fires

Illustration of firetruck for kids

 

When there is a fire, Maloney said, it’s important that children know how to respond. “Some kids love the lights and sirens, but for a lot of other kids, they’re scary. If a kid gets really scared, he might hide – and that’s not what we want.”

Maloney suggested that children practice shining a flashlight out their window in the event of a fire to signal firefighters that someone is in the room.

Once firefighters do enter, the respirator and mask can be scary as well for children who have never seen a firefighter in full turnout gear. “We always show kids our masks when they come to visit the firehouse,” Maloney said, “and there’s usually at least one kid who cries. It can be scary if you aren’t expecting it.”

Getting the chance to see a firefighter’s gear in a non-emergency setting, such as during a fire department’s open house, can help. Many fire stations open their doors to visitors during Fire Prevention Week, held the week of October 9.

Police Officers

 

illustration of police car for kids

 

While emergencies are scary enough on their own, some children wind up with an undue fear of police based on offhand comments or something said in jest. “It’s the old joke of, ‘You’d better behave or that police officer is going to take you away,’” Davis said. “It’s something that’s said to be humorous, but it can instill a real fear in children.”

A child who’s afraid of the police is less likely to come forward for help when he or she might really need it. “That fear can create a wall that now we have to break through with them before they’re going to trust us,” Davis pointed out.

Watching police on the job, whether in a real emergency or on TV, may bring up other questions. “When you’re the one telling people what to do, it’s never easy,” Davis noted. “If a kid hears you shouting, that might throw them off.” Parents can explain to children that first responders may speak in loud, clear voices to make sure everyone can hear them – not because they are angry.

Davis said his department is involved in a variety of outreach opportunities, including visiting schools and community organizations, to help young people get to know the police officers in their community. Many police and fire departments also host open houses and safety events, such as car seat checks, both to educate the public about specific issues and to give families the chance to visit their facilities.

“If someone wants us somewhere, we’ll try to make it happen,” Davis explained. “Outreach is an important part of what we do.”

Davis suggests that parents think small when looking for ways to help their child get more familiar with the role of first responders. “We’re all really busy, and we tend to think we don’t have time for things,” Davis acknowledged. “But something as simple as saying ‘hello’ if you see a police officer or a firefighter out in the community can make a big difference.”


Lulakids seatbelt bloc for kids and carseat clipsParent Co. partnered with LulaKids because they believe in bringing kids along for the ride.