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First responders train for patients with special needs

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind -- Dozens of first responders from across central Indiana met at the Indianapolis EMS headquarters to learn how to better understand patients with special needs.

The presentation, called "The Emily Talk," was given by Tom Felter Jr., a paramedic from northwest Indiana who has a daughter with down syndrome.

“I can talk to both sides of this issue, because I'm on both sides of this issue,” Felter Jr. said.

For more than 20 years he's worked in emergency services. He spent time as both a firefighter and police officer before spending 19 years as a paramedic.

Felter Jr. begins the session by having Emily walk around to each person with a sign-in sheet. He doesn't need the piece of paper, rather, he's doing it for the interaction.

At times, his daughter is the most social person in the room, and at other times, Felter Jr. said she shuts down.

“We spent some time at Disney with her sitting on the ground at the front of the line to get on a ride because it was just so overwhelming," Felter Jr. recalled. "She shut down, she sat down, and there was nothing we could do about it... As frustrating and as angry as that made us, I can't get angry.”

The presentation began with a video that told the story of a boy with down syndrome who died at the hands of law enforcement after he refused to leave a movie theater. It was a tragic misunderstanding that Felter Jr. doesn’t want to happen again.

“It's all about patience," Felter Jr. said. "When she doesn't want to do something, when the little guy didn’t want to leave the theater, let 'em sit.”

After more than 20 years of raising a daughter with special needs, Felter Jr. has learned to have patience. That's the focus of his lesson.

"That's something that doesn't come easily to a lot of first responders," said Indianapolis EMS Operations Captain Brian Neuffer. "It's just in our nature to move fast and move quickly and make decisions and take action, and that’s something here that we can’t do.”

Neuffer has known Felter Jr. for years. He even credits Felter Jr. for inspiring him to become a paramedic. He reached out to Felter Jr. to host the training and opened it up to agencies across the region.

"We’re all constantly working together, so it's great we’re all here to see the same information and hear the same things so we’re all coming from the same place when we’re interacting with someone like Emily,” Neuffer said.

It's a unique lesson being taught by someone with a unique experience. Felter Jr. hopes when first responders encounter this type of unique situation, they'll know what to do.

"To be patient, that’s the one thing that comes out a lot in my presentation," Felter Jr. said. "If there's no urgency for her to do something or not do something, let it play out.”

The presentation was free for those in attendance thanks to the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation.

Nearly 10 different agencies from across central Indiana were represented.

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