First Responders Learn Sign Language

March 29, 2012 Updated Mar 30, 2012 at 7:26 AM EDT

By Kendra Eaglin

March 29, 2012 Updated Mar 30, 2012 at 7:26 AM EDT

Lancaster, NY

Who would have thought learning the ABC's would be a challenge for a group of first responders from the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps?

Pamela Rohring is deaf. She is one of the sign language instructors teaching emergency sign language to a group of first responders from the LVAC.

Rohring says not only is it important for emergency crews to learn basic signs, they also need to learn a little bit about deaf culture.

"One example would be if an EMS person encounters a deaf person, make sure you have eye contact so you can communicate, if the EMT knows basic sign language, instead of looking around make eye contact," said Rohring.

Simple signs are critical when an officer encounters a deaf person in need of help. Recently, LVAC responded to a call of an unresponsive woman.

When they arrived on scene they discovered that the patient's daughter was deaf and they weren't able to get vital information about the nature of the emergency and valuable time was lost in translation.

"The patient herself could not communicate with us, her primary care provider was deaf and we could not communicate with her either so getting the background information, medications that the patient was on, medical background history was all unattainable to us," said Jeff Bono, Vice President of LVAC.

"It's important that the communication be established right away in an emergency situation. We're going to teach tonight not only the ABC's and the numbers and your name and things like that but we're going to give them information on technology that can be in an emergency vehicle that can immediately help a situation," explained Timothy Kelly, Superintendent of St. Mary's School for the deaf.

The LVAC plans to install a sign language apps on devices so when crews go on calls they can have immediate communication with the deaf.

They are hoping that other fire departments, police, and sheriff's departments follow their lead.