Purdue firefighter spreads message of autism awareness

April 25, 2014  

Blair Blanch autism

Purdue firefighter and paramedic Blair Blanch stands in front of a fire truck at the Purdue University Fire Department. In addition to serving the public as a first responder, Blanch spends his days off training other public safety personnel on how to treat patients and fire victims who suffer from autism. Blanch's inspiration is his 6-year-old son who was diagnosed with the disorder. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Inspired by his 6-year-old son, Purdue University Fire Department firefighter and paramedic Blair Blanch spends his days off training other public safety personnel about autism.

April is National Autism Awareness month, and Blanch will lead 12 training sessions to other fire departments and law enforcement agencies in the Midwest. He spoke last fall with such passion at an Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC) training session that the trainer, Bill Cannata, invited Blanch to become a trainer himself. Blanch's program, "Fire Rescue Autism," was born as a result. He and West Lafayette Fire Chief Tim Heath, also a parent of a child with autism, teamed up on this mission, and they are finding there is a significant need in the public safety community.

"I had no knowledge of autism before my son was diagnosed," Blanch said. "Now I understand firsthand how knowledge of the disorder can save lives."

Knowing that many people with autism are drawn to water, for example, is important for first responders. In fact, a majority of autism deaths are due to drowning, Blanch said.

"The danger is multiplied exponentially," he said. "People with autism need a routine, and they could hide or run away when that routine is disrupted, which could lead to another tragedy. Having the training to know how to communicate is critical."

Blanch is one of only 12 trainers in the country who present to first responder agencies about autism awareness. He's already trained staff at fire departments, police departments and even major airports. Some participants have told him the skills they were taught were applicable within weeks of his training sessions.

"I hope to one day reach every fire and police department in the state," he said. 

Writer: Liz Evans, 765-494-2084, lizevans@purdue.edu 

Source: Blair Blanch, 765-494-6919, autismrescue@yahoo.com 

Note to Journalists: Blanch is available for interviews on Monday, April 28.

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