Flash cards to help Knoxville firefighters communicate with Hispanic victims
July 2, 2012
By Don Jacobs
Firefighters arrive at a burning home where folks are screaming and wailing as men restrain women from charging into the inferno that was their house.
As the ever-growing flames consume the home, no one can tell the firefighters there are still children in the house because none of the Hispanic residents speaks English.
While Knoxville firefighters haven’t encountered that scenario, Knoxville Fire Department Senior Firefighter Al Ludwig is putting together a program he hopes prevents that nightmarish scene from unfolding.
Ludwig last week launched his first class of volunteer firefighters to train them on the use of flash cards that can be used to communicate with the city’s growing Hispanic population.
In some portions of the city, firefighters encounter non-English speaking victims on 10 percent to 20 percent of their calls, Ludwig said.
“We’re starting from the ground up right now,” Ludwig said before he began his first class of six firefighters who volunteered at Station 15 on Jacksboro Pike.
“Instead of trying to teach 300 firefighters elementary Spanish so they can follow a conversation, we use these,” Ludwig said as he held out five pages of translated questions.
Ludwig put together the flash cards based on his five years of experience with the Knoxville Fire Department and his basic grasp of Spanish. He had Spanish classes in high school and college and spent two summers in Mexico.
“We want to keep it real basic, real simple,” Ludwig told his class while explaining the questions on the flash cards.
Questions such as, “Show me the injury?” and “Are you pregnant?” and “How many months?” and “Are you taking any medications?” are imperative for firefighters trying to treat a patient.
“So far we’ve been lucky with having family or friends who can translate for us,” Ludwig said. “These are for those worst-case scenarios.”
After compiling his flash cards, Ludwig visited several Hispanic stores to have shopkeepers review his Spanish. The first thing he noted was the suspicions that greeted him because of the badge on his shirt.
Ludwig said once the Hispanic store owners realized he was trying to help them, they couldn’t do enough for him. They did correct some of his grammar, Ludwig said humbly.
The flash cards also contain phonetic spelling of the Spanish so firefighters can ask questions if their victims aren’t literate in their native language.
Ludwig said he expects to fine-tune the flash cards as he learns more in the weeks ahead about required questions from the firefighters he’s teaching.
Once he is satisfied with the flash cards, Ludwig will have them laminated and placed in medical bags on fire engines. The lamination will allow patients to mark on the cards with an erasable marker while answering multiple-choice questions.
In addition, Ludwig plans on having refresher courses a couple times a month for firefighters. He also wants to take the volunteers to Hispanic events to absorb more of the Hispanic culture.
“And we want to get out in the community and show them what we’re all about,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig dismissed questions about why firefighters should learn a foreign language for people who have come to the United States. He noted that learning a new language takes time and for older people, conquering a new tongue is insurmountable.
“As firefighters, we’re not there to discuss the politics of it, we’re there to help human beings,” he said.
Senior Firefighter Kevin Spooner, who volunteered for the first class, said he attended because emergency responders “just want to improve the way we treat people.”
“The Hispanic population is growing and we really need this,” said Spooner, 57, who has been with the Fire Department for 23 years.
“You need some comforting words, especially for the children because a lot of times TLC (tender loving care) is the first treatment we offer.”
Source: Knox News