New “Recognize a Responder” Program Teaches about Helpful Strangers

Photo of combined agency efforts, compliments of Poudre Fire Authority.

Poudre Fire Authority of Fort Collins


Local first responder agencies and a Community Connections intern are partnering to teach people of all ages, specifically those with sensory sensitivities such as people with autism, what to expect in an emergency. What started as an idea from Intern Ellie Gassman to make an educational video grew into the “Recognize a Responder” program. Fort Collins Police Services (FCPS), Poudre Fire Authority (PFA), and UCHealth EMS produced a video that was distributed throughout the Poudre School District (PSD) and beyond.

In February, Ms. Gassman reached out to Jarad Sargent with FCPS with the help of a social worker at Rocky Mountain High School about a need she saw in her students. Sargent connected her to the other agencies. Community Connections is a program that assists PSD students with significant learning needs transition from high school to independent living and/or post-secondary education. They learn and practice everything from cooking skills and how to access community transportation and recreation to social skills and safety precautions. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with, and I’m so grateful they want to go down this path with me. I can’t wait to see where this goes, from one school to seven this year, with more asking every week. It’s been such a blessing to watch this 2 a.m. brainchild grow from an idea into helping so many people in the community,” wrote Ms. Gassman.

The video shows a car accident from the point of view of a patient (played by Ms. Gassman). Viewers see what a patient would see. The emergency vehicles pull up, a police officer asks if she is okay, a firefighter crew completes a medical assessment, then she is moved to the ambulance for care by the paramedics. The video also reviews uniforms and equipment.

“Students not only see firsthand what a scene could look like, but they learn what a responder might ask in order to help. The three agencies respond to incidents together every single day and we’re excited to partner on public education too,” said PFA Public Information Officer Annie Bierbower. 

 Students watch the video in the classroom then come outside for a presentation by responders. They ask questions, see the vehicles up close, and learn how to distinguish a “helpful stranger.” Ms. Gassman works with schools to arrange logistics and find out about the needs of the class. For example, if there are students who could have a seizure, the agencies do not use lights or sirens.

Several events are scheduled, with more in the works. Watch the video here!

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