On Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014, the Bismarck Fire Department responded to a structure fire that involved a child affected by autism. Due to the challenges that accompany autism, firefighters eventually were able to locate the child who was hiding and removed the child safely. This is only one example of how Project Lifesaver could assist emergency response agencies in these type situations.
Bismarck Fire Marshal Joseph Cox, spearheaded Families Affected by Autism/Alzheimer’s Coalition for Education (F.A.A.C.E) a local program, that partners with public safety agencies and the families affected by autism. F.A.A.C.E. fosters an interactive awareness to public safety agencies, in both emergency and non-emergency situations, of the unique challenges faced by families affected by autism, and provides education and tools to families affected by autism for the prevention of injury or death.
“I commend the leadership and the contribution of efforts by the Bismarck Fire, Police, and Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health departments and the contributions and participation of the N.D. Department of Human Services Autism Services and the many tireless individuals and community stakeholders involved with the Families Affected by Autism/Alzheimer’s Coalition for Education (F.A.A.C.E) for bringing Project Lifesaver to fruition, said Parrell Grossman, Bismarck City Commissioner. “This coalition of effort serves as an exemplary example of community partnerships that help to protect the lives and safety of individuals at risk for wandering in our community and helps to bring them home to their families.”
Elizabeth Nordquist, a parent representative with F.A.A.C.E, worked tirelessly to give a voice to families affected by Autism and provided valuable input as to what families need and what would be practical. “What Project Lifesaver means to me, and all of our families, is relief. At our last meeting we, the mothers, cried when watching a short clip of how the device would work. It was just a small video of a mother discovering her child with autism had left the house when she thought he was napping. There were tears of fear seeing our nightmares played out, but tears of joy that we will soon have something that can help find our children. It is hard to live every moment of the day constantly keeping tabs on your child,” said Nordquist. “Project Lifesaver takes that element of stress away from us. We won't stop being vigilant! Project Lifesaver is there as our safety net.”
The North Dakota Department of Human Services Autism Services Unit provided $2,500 so that Bismarck first responders could receive search and rescue tracking equipment and training through Project Life Saver. The service gives participating families peace of mind if a loved one has an autism spectrum disorder or other medical condition and a tendency to wander off and become lost.
Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies authorities, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area. Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes. Recovery times for Project Lifesaver clients average 30 minutes — 95% less time than standard operations. Bismarck Burleigh Public Health will be available if assistance is needed once the Project Lifesaver equipment arrives for orientation, initial set-up and maintenance of equipment.
Project Lifesaver is a voluntary program. Once an individual is enrolled and the equipment has arrived, assistance, support and equipment maintenance will be available to families at Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health, 701-355-1540. The Bismarck Fire and Police departments have received the tracking devices and related training from Project Lifesaver to locate the missing persons.
The program is voluntary and families who believe they may benefit will have an opportunity to enroll in the service. The N.D. Department of Human Services Autism Services Unit may be able to help with enrollment costs for qualifying families in the Bismarck area who have children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Interested families should contact the department’s Autism Services Unit at 701-328-8912, toll-free 800-755-2604, or Email.
Autism Services Coordinator Trisha Page said, “The Department of Human Services is pleased to be able to support Project Lifesaver services and training for police and fire department personnel to help them serve children with autism and their families.”
The Autism Services Unit administers the Medicaid autism waiver and a voucher program, and supports statewide training. Information is online to at www.nd.gov/dhs/autism.
For general information about Project Lifesaver visit www.projectlifesaver.org
or call 1-877-580-5433. The cost to enroll is $95.00, and a fee of $25.00 per month. Families interested in learning more about how to enroll in Project Lifesaver may contact Dean Clarkson, Bismarck Police Department at 701-355-1906 or Joseph Cox, Bismarck Fire Marshal at 701-355-1422.