Newport News Fire Department uses 'sensory bags' to help calm patients, especially those with autism

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Posted at 2:07 PM, Nov 24, 2021

NEWPORT NEWS, Va.— First responders in Newport News have added a new tool to their fleet. EMS supervisor vehicles and medic unit vehicles are now carrying "sensory bags" to help patients deal with stress.

Some of the items inside the bags include a communication board, headphones to block out the loud sounds, fidget tools and sunglasses.

Newport News Battalion Chief Mark Kain said, "Whenever we will go on an emergency call, it can be kind of frightening. There are lots of lights, lots of people and loud sirens, and some people have issues with that."

The sensory bags were added to the units two months ago. They're designed to distract patients, giving them something else to focus on so the ride is less frightening. First responders said they can take better care of some patients that way.

"We told our people how they should deploy it and how they could replace it, and what population group we're looking at being able to utilize them," Kain said.

First responders said the communication board is very important because it allows people to point to how they are feeling.

Bryan Tiemeyer, a senior firefighter medic, said, "If someone is really stressed out and unable to communicate or focus, they can point to pictures or spell stuff out. This one is very helpful."

Leaders said the idea came from the fire department's Public Education Office and an educational specialist at Old Dominion University who provided help on this project.

"In the past, we've had things such as stuffed animals, and things of that nature. This bag is just one more tool to try and make it easier for us to assess and take care of any emergency that you're having," Kain said.

Kain said none of his first responders have had to use these bags for a patient just yet, but he's grateful for the $1,000 funding that was put into this project to have these sensory bags, that will be here to stay.