Winter Park Fire Department Offers Sensory-Friendly Experience

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The Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department is providing unique tours for people on the autism spectrum. The Superpower Tour transforms a traditional fire station into a sensory-sensitive setting.

“Visiting your local fire station is more than just fun; it’s educational with tours that include fire safety and prevention tips,” said Fire Chief Dan Hagedorn in a prepared statement. “We realized there might be families not coming in because touring a station could be overwhelming with the lights, sirens, dispatch tones and loud air brakes.”

The title refers to the powers associated with people on the autism scale that include sustained concentration, problem solving, and attention to detail. Yet these abilities could make a traditional sensory tour overwhelming. Loud features such as sirens are disengaged, and quiet rooms are available.

The tour began in April, which is Autism Awareness Month, and was partially inspired by Division Chief of Safety & Training Jeff Spinelli whose son lives with autism. Spinelli has helped to provide additional department training that focused on communication and interaction with individuals living with autism.

“We are talking about an incredible population who might learn and experience things differently – as my son has taught me,” Spinelli told the32789. “For a department to go the extra mile and adapt to ensure inclusiveness for all kids when visiting the fire station – I couldn’t be prouder and I’m sure other families share my sentiments. It makes me even more proud to be with Winter Park Fire Department.”

Carly McLaughlin of Apopka recently took the tour with her son.

“He got to try on a hat and the boots. He wore the breathing mask and everything,” she said. “When they open the door to the bay where the trucks are kept, a loud air conditioning unit (normally) comes on but that was turned off. They turned on all the lights on the truck, but there were no sirens. And we were warned that if the siren went off that it was a real call.”

For more information on the Superpower Tour or to make a required reservation, email WPFDPubEd@cityofwinterpark.org

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