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Image of a woman wearing hair in a ponytail and glasses, and a male police officer, both holding red bags. Behind them is the inside of a police station.

AWS Foundation Program Officer, Mandy Drakeford (left) delivers first responder kits to Auburn Police, Cory Heffelfinger.

FORT WAYNE, Ind.– AWS Foundation today announced a partnership with area police departments, fire departments, and EMTs, equipping our region with First Responder Safety Kits. The kits were created to assist first responders in serving people with intellectual and physical disabilities during emergencies.

“We’re grateful for all our first responders in Northeast Indiana and the work they do every day to keep us safe,” said Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation. “Each emergency is different, and our First Responder Safety Kit provides them with additional support when responding to emergencies that may involve an individual with a disability.”

Older male police officer in uniform and female wearing a ponytail and glasses hold a red bag together.

Waterloo Marshal, Jay Oberholtzer (left) receives first responder kits from AWS Foundation Program Officer, Mandy Drakeford

The First Responder Safety Kit pilot program will include: Fort Wayne Police Department, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, Auburn Police Department, Spencerville Fire Department, Concord Fire Department, and Waterloo Marshals Department. The kit contains:

  • Emergency Communication Board – To assist individuals who are, for various reasons, not responding to verbal instructions or questions. By pointing to pictures, first responders can secure a yes or no response aiding in a non-threatening way.
  • Tips for First Responders – The Tip Sheets for First Responders were developed by University of New Mexico Health due to requests for quick, easy-to-understand guidance on how to effectively work with people with a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities in emergency situations.
  • Dry Erase Board and Marker – Individuals who are non-verbal or deaf may prefer to write or draw their answers to first responders. This provides first responders with additional communication tools in the field.
  • Noise Cancelling Headphones – Headphones can be a valuable tool for people with sensory processing disorders, autism, and other disabilities. These headphones help block out overwhelming noise and sensory stimuli, providing people with a sense of calm.
  • Fidget Toys and Devices – Fidget toys give people an outlet for nervous or restless energy. Fidget toys can help relieve
    Male sherriff dressed in uniform holds red bag with female wearing a ponytail and glasses.

    DeKalb County Sherriff, Brady Thomas (left) receives first responder kits from AWS Foundation Program Officer, Mandy Drakeford

    stress, calm nerves, and serve as a distraction in a stressful environment.

“With the help of these kits, deputies will be better equipped to communicate with all individuals in the field,” said Brady Thomas, Dekalb County Sheriff.

As the first responders begin to use the kits, AWS Foundation will evaluate the effectiveness of each item in the safety kit. Others interested in a kit, should contact Mandy Drakeford, Program Officer, at AWS Foundation at