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New tool will help Suffolk’s first responders with special needs children, adults

Specials Moms Network co-founders Susan Kleiman and Dana DeRuvo Hanner with SPCD officer John Wright at the Bay Shore firehouse Monday. (Michael White)

The parents of special needs children joined police, firefighters and ambulance workers in Bay Shore Monday to announce a new informational tool that will help first responders when arriving to the home of a special needs child or adult.

It’s called a Special Needs Person on Premises Alert Form, and it was developed by the Special Moms Network advocacy group, with input from the Suffolk County Police Department.

“These forms save lives, and it’s always about safety,” said Dana Deruvo Hanner, a Special Moms Network co-founder.

Although the program is in its beginning stages, families living in Suffolk County can submit the form to their local fire department or directly to the Special Moms Network, which will then distribute the forms to what they hope will be a growing list of participating entities, such as town halls and other police departments.

The Suffolk County Police Department is the first to be on board.

“This is a great program that will help us; the more information we can get before we arrive to a place, the better we’ll be able to serve,” said SCPD Officer John Wright said, who helped develop the form and coordinated the efforts between the advocacy group and the police department.

He said the county’s 911 operators in Yaphank will be given the forms to keep in an electronic database.

“When a call comes out to that address, the [police] car will be notified,” he said.

The form offers crucial details for first responders, such as whether a person is verbal or nonverbal, or if that person is known to hide in the home, or wears identifying jewelry or tags — even how to best to approach the child or adult.

A separate form is kept for each child or adult on the premises.

Gloria Costello of Bay Shore and her husband, Tom, have 13 forms to fill out.

They have 17 children in total — a number that includes 13 adopted special needs children who live with them.

“They range from ADHD to severe brain damage,” she said. “They’re all different. But they’re all just kids.”

Costello said a big concern is how to evacuate everyone from the home in an emergency.

“There’s 13 children in our home, and we try to have a plan, but if the fire alarm goes off there’s just two of us, in reality,” she said. “You’re just hoping you have enough time to get each one out the door.  That’s a big concern, and this makes me feel a little more comfortable that if we can’t do it alone, [police or firefighters] will know where my children are and go get them out.”

The form will be downloadable through the Special Moms Network website.

There is also a form located below. Call the network at 855-487-2384 for additional information.

Special Needs Person on Premises by Michael White

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com