Santa Monica Pier is the perfect location for your day of fun in the sun — from the exhilarating rides and fun midway games at Pacific Park to all the delicious foods, affordable shopping, and beautiful beaches down the coast. It’s no wonder tens of millions of guests flock to this unique venue every year.
If you recently ventured down the Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail or turned off Interstate 10 to go south of the Pier, then you may have noticed the lifeguard tower on Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey has been newly painted — adorned with light and dark blue, red, and gold hearts painted on a plain white background. You are looking at the commemoration of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s new program called Sirens of Silence.
What Is the Sirens of Silence Program?
According to the Autism Society of Los Angeles, a third of all Californians with autism live in LA County. Also, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not visible — it’s unrecognizable in someone’s appearance. Rather, you can recognize ASD in the way someone behaves, learns, interacts, and communicates.
ASD affects people differently — some people have an aversion to light and sounds including those of an emergency vehicle. While most people gladly welcome the help and assistance of first responders, some children and adults with ASD can be unnerved by the sirens and firefighters dressed in uniform.
Considering this, the LA County Fire Department — or LACoFD — has launched the Sirens of Silence program to promote autism awareness — they want to bridge the gap by reaching out to those with ASD in the community of LA County.
The LACoFD recognizes that different people need to be approached in different ways. Especially, people with autism — regardless of the age group — need to be approached with more care and attention.
The Sirens of Silence program is run in close collaboration with the parents and caregivers of people with ASD, whose continual input helps firefighters and first responders to have the skills they need to approach community members with ASD.
The Training Program
The Sirens of Silence program’s initiative is to instruct firefighters, first responders, and lifeguards in caring for children or adults with autism and achieve inclusivity for all members of the community. Therefore, training is imperative.
A required training module — with materials created by Millie Velasco— educates them so that they can have the experience and knowledge on how to care for someone with ASD. Here are the three components of this training program:
- Education and awareness — The LACoFD has launched a training session required for all first responders in the county. It’s aimed at inculcating the knowledge and skills required to approach and talk with children or adults who have ASD. The required materials are available on the LACoFD’s website.
- Special needs-friendly events — The Sirens of Silence program has partnered with local organizations so that people with ASD, along with their families and caregivers, can meet the firefighters and first responders in their communities in a safe, friendly environment at planned events. Here, they can learn the different types of equipment that emergency personnel carry so that they are not afraid of it in the future.
- Safety-related and sensory-sensitive items — First responders can learn about different items for patients which can help protect the patient and aid in the communication process.
The LACoFD also notes that the design of this training module may be useful for interacting with people who don’t have ASD but have impaired communication or expression.
LA County’s Initiative for Autism Awareness
On May 28, 2021, a partnership between the LACoFD, Fourth District County Supervisor Janice Hahn, and the Department of Beaches and Harbors unveiled a newly designed lifeguard tower.
In the honor of the Siren of Silence program, Ocean Lifeguard Scott Snyder created and painted the design on the tower. Snyder covered the lifeguard tower with different colored hearts, which represent the county, the ocean, and the LACoFD. It stands as a reminder of autism awareness and the importance of community inclusivity.
Next time you treat your family to a Santa Monica excursion, snap a photo by the lifeguard tower on Mother’s Beach, and when you post it remember to use the hashtags #sirensofsilence and #autismawareness. You too can help spread autism awareness throughout the Santa Monica and Los Angeles community, and you’ll be part of endeavors that’ll bring the community together.
Feature image courtesy of LACoFD.