The Rome-Floyd County Fire Department has taken an important step forward in serving a diverse community.

All emergency response personnel have been equipped with American Sign Language emergency reference manuals and quick reference guides with the intent to lessen language barriers in emergency situations.

Jamie Stone, Chief of Training for the fire department, said a language barrier is something that emergency workers such as firefighters may have to overcome during an emergency situation.

“This will assist all our personnel in some of those situations,” he said. “We have deaf and hard-of-hearing members of our community, many who attend the Georgia School for the Deaf and we want to be able to serve all the citizens of Rome and Floyd County.”

Stone said an ASL emergency manual will be kept at fire stations while a flip-book of reference cards will be kept in fire trucks along with a notebook and pen to farther assist communication.

Though nothing can fully prepare firefighters or victims for every single situation that may arise during an emergency situation, nor can every language barrier be overcome, department officials are hopeful that this is a good start.

“We think these things will help our guys be able to more quickly assess a situation and get some important information during an emergency situation,” he said.

The ASL emergency manual will be added to the lineup of manuals which are kept in the stations for firefighters to study and train with. It offers emergency personnel a guide to helping members of the deaf community by showing them basic ASL phrases and words that may be helpful or even vital in an emergency situation. For example it shows them how to ask a person how they feel and includes the different signs to look for such as sick, dizzy, confused, hurt and ok. It includes signs for asking “Where are you going?,” “Are you lost?,” “Can I help,” “When did you get hurt” and a variety of other basic questions that could benefit an emergency worker doing his or her job.

The manual also includes quick references for a wide variety of words such as “accident,” “address,” “afraid,” “blood,” “bone,” “breathe” and other words that could alert personnel to the needs of a deaf person during an emergency.

It also includes a finger alphabet in case the user just needs to spell out a word or phrase.

The quick reference guides, which also contain Spanish phrases, will be added to the equipment that is carried on the engines. The quick guide is a laminated set of cards that alert deaf individuals that emergency personnel are with the Rome-Floyd County Fire Department and can be shown to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals quickly to see if they’re hurt or asking where the fire is, and is everyone out. The flip side of the quick reference cards offer the same questions in Spanish.

Kathy Baker of the Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living, and his herself hard-of-hearing, worked with the department’s fire safety educators on getting the manuals and reference guides to include necessary information.

“This is gonna be a game changer,” Baker said. “It will help a lot. This is something close to my heart. People who are hard-of-hearing sometimes have trouble in emergency situations because they may not be completely aware of what’s going on. In a situation like that things happen quickly. Someone who’s deaf may not understand why someone is rushing toward them or why someone in a uniform and mask is coming up to them with all this equipment. It can be scary.”

Baker said Rome and Floyd County’s deaf and hard-of-hearing community will surely benefit from this new initiative as it helps bridge that first important gap between emergency personnel and the deaf community — communication. She said being able to communicate just a few vital pieces of information in an emergency could make a huge difference.”

A statement from the fire department said officials recognize there are groups within the community who may require specialized care. This is part of an ongoing effort by the Training and Education Division to do identify those groups and work toward providing the highest level of public safety services to citizens of “Rome and Floyd County.”

“The number of deaf/hard-of-hearing citizens of Rome and Floyd County is significant,” the statement said. “It’s paramount to keep all personnel as well trained as possible for any scenario they may encounter.”