skip to main content

ALIVE: Training Video For First Responders

14 minutes

At some point, first responders are likely to encounter a person with a disability who will need assistance. This training video adds to your personal and professional toolkit, so you will know how to help someone with a disability. Parts of this video are told by people with disabilities, who have had both good and bad experiences when they've called for help. Just as every emergency situation is different, every person with or without a disability is unique. This video stresses the importance of considering the person first, not their disability. To help reinforce the tips you're about to learn, remember ALIVE, which stands for... When on the scene, ask the person how you can best assist them, listen to their response, integrate the information received into their response, vary the response accordingly, and engage the person for a positive outcome. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, about to transfer to my wheelchair, and without warning, I blacked out. I completely lost consciousness and fell off the bed face-first to the floor. I was unable to move. I was jammed between the bed and the wall. My forehead hit the corner of my wheelchair battery charger, which is a steel box. And my left leg was bent underneath my body. I couldn't move. My wife called 911, and the first responders arrived within 2 to 3 minutes. The first responders asked if I was having trouble breathing. I was, so they put me on oxygen. Once I explained I was disabled, they wanted to know the best way to help. They were having a difficult time because of where I landed. They flipped my bed over to get to me. And once they did, I was able to tell them the best way to move me, how to roll me over, and secure my legs. They listened and gently, carefully, did as I asked them. They got me in a sling and carried me out. The first responders who helped me were calm and respectful. They did a great job because they asked me the right questions and followed my instructions on how best to handle me.

(Anderson) Ask if they have physical limitations that may impact the situation. Follow their instructions. If they are a wheelchair user, ask how best to transfer them to their wheelchair and then follow their instructions. Keep the wheelchair with the person. If it's a power chair, turn it off. A power chair can weigh hundreds of pounds and may not go along if the person is transported. If available, bring a manual chair that folds up.

(woman for Cherie) My husband was doing some remodeling work, and suddenly he fell to the floor, clutching his chest. I knew I needed help. I'm deaf and so is my husband, so I called 911 on our video phone. The paramedics arrived screaming at both of us. I can speak a bit, I can read lips, and I can feel their vibrations. I told them to stop shouting, but they didn't listen. The shouting made me so frustrated, and it made our children cry, too. The paramedics transported my husband to the hospital, and when we got there, there were more questions and more shouting. They did not believe that I was deaf. They kept asking questions like, "How can you tell that we're screaming if you can't hear?" So I asked for an interpreter, and that took hours. By then I was so exhausted and scared. First responders need to understand that many deaf people can read lips, and they can feel sound vibrations. But when someone shouts and screams, it causes us more frustration on top of all the other frustrations and emotions the person is experiencing. Fortunately, my husband did get the treatment he needed, but trying to get him help did not have to be traumatic.

(Anderson) Here's how to respond to a call involving someone who is deaf. Repeat questions as necessary and be patient. If a person is deaf or hard of hearing, designate one person to do the talking. Establish eye contact. Talk calmly and slowly. It is especially important to face the person in need so they can see your nonverbal cues in order to communicate with you. Some deaf people can read lips, although this may be very difficult. It may be necessary to use a pen and paper.

(woman for Andrea) During a snowstorm, my daughter, who is six, started to vomit. She has diabetes, and I was concerned about her low blood sugar and her possible reaction. I called an urgent-care hospital and talked to a nurse. The nurse didn't understand my concern about my daughter's blood sugar number and her insulin level. I was very nervous, and the situation was really intense. The nurse asked me questions, and I answered the best I could, with the circumstances. Suddenly, an ambulance arrived at my house. I didn't ask for that, and I was mystified. A nurse told me that he had called for the ambulance. Three paramedics came to my house, and my daughter did all the talking with them. I put down my concerns on paper, and I said that she was vomiting and she's diabetic, but paramedics were focused on her, not on me. I was very confused. I have no idea what they said to me. A nurse should have communicated with me and let me know what he was doing. I would've liked to have known an ambulance was coming soon to bring my daughter to the hospital.

(Anderson) No matter who is asking for help, tell them what actions you are taking, so they're not surprised. Just because someone has a disability does not mean they should be ignored. Emergency personnel must understand that for many deaf people, English is not their first language. You must be extra patient and communicate using simple, clear ideas. I just finished loading the laundry. I was about to head upstairs when I heard an explosion and water spraying against the closed door. By the sound of water flowing and the vibrations on the door, I knew the water was full blast. As I slowly opened the door a crack, I was hit with a rush of hot water and hot steam. I slammed the door quickly and started to freak out. I knew if I went in to turn off the water, I would get burned by scalding hot water. Once I got upstairs, I called 911, and I told the operator I was blind and home alone. I explained what I had heard and that I needed help. At first, the operator said they do not usually send help when the call should be to a plumber. But because of the circumstances, a 911 supervisor obtained permission to dispatch the fire department. The firefighters who came to my house found the main water shutoff and the exploded water hose. They showed me where the water main was and how to turn off the water in an emergency. This story shows that a call for help may not always fit into a simple category. Although this was not a medical call, I needed help right away, or it could have become a medical emergency.

(Anderson) Survey the situation and make changes as necessary, but inform the person of what you are doing. When helping a person who has reduced vision, identify yourself, offer assistance, but let the person explain what help is needed. Do not grab or guide them without first asking them. Let the person grasp your arm or shoulder for guidance. Be sure to mention stairs, doorways, narrow passages, and ramps. If the person has a service animal, don't treat it like a pet. Service animals must be evacuated with the person. My adult son Tony has schizoaffective disorder, which is a combination of symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar, and depression. Tony had just been discharged from a crisis house and was still symptomatic. I had to leave my house for a short time and told Tony to stay put. He was unfamiliar with this city, lived here a few months, and had come from a rural setting. When I got home, Tony was gone and so was my bike. I contacted 311 and reported Tony as a vulnerable missing adult. I was very concerned. Hours later, in the wee morning, Tony was back home, and he was yelling, "Mom, Mom! "There's an officer outside! You're really gonna like him! Come on, Mom, you gotta meet him!" I hugged my son, opened the door, and there was an officer. He told me that he was patrolling and saw Tony hanging out with a group of dangerous people. The officer said he recognized everyone except Tony, so he watched him for a bit until he had a chance to motion him over. Once the officer talked to Tony, he recognized that Tony was in a manic phase. The officer offered to load the bike and drive Tony home. When Tony gets manic, everyone is his friend. The officer told me that this could've had a much worse outcome. Tony could've been beaten by the boys or worse. The officer had received crisis intervention training, so he knew how to respond. The officer knew the area he was patrolling well enough to recognize that my son was out of place. I can only imagine the grave outcome if not for this officer intervening.

(Anderson) Some people have obvious disabilities, while others can be difficult or impossible to notice. That could include cognitive disabilities, mental illness, or multiple chemical sensitivities. When dealing with people who have these disabilities, speak calmly and allow extra time for a response. Use short sentences, simple words, and sometimes pictures or objects to help illustrate your point. Reassure the person you are there to help. ALIVE-- Ask, Listen, Integrate, Vary, Engage-- is an easy way to remember better ways to respond to calls for help from those with disabilities. Ask the person how you can best assist them, listen to their response, integrate the information received into their response, vary the response accordingly, and engage the person for a positive outcome. ALIVE is an additional tool, but it does not replace a first responder's standard operating procedures. Remember, the best way during an emergency to assist a person with a disability is to always consider the person first. Put people first, not their disability.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

PH: 1-800-USA-LEARN (V) or WEB:

Transcript Options

Now Playing As: Captioned (English) (change)

Report a Problem

At some point in a first responder's career, they are likely to encounter a person with some type of disability who needs assistance. The City of Minneapolis Fire Department has put together a training video which is meant to help first responders know how to help someone who has a disability. Some segments are told from the perspective of people living with disabilities who have had both good and bad experiences when they have called for help in an emergency situation.

Media Details

Runtime: 14 minutes

Request a DVD
Members Only - Apply Now
1 hour 35 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
8 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Raising A Visually Impaired Child: Personal Stories From Parents, Siblings, And Children With Visual Impairments
Episode 4
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
57 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
28 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
28 minutes
Grade Level: 6 - 12
27 minutes
Grade Level: PT/TT -
26 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
23 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
24 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12