Westwood Fire Captain Bill Cannata has spent the last six years teaching first-responder firefighters how to recognize the symptoms of autism at an emergency scene so they know how to best approach someone with the disorder who is in distress.
The first-of-its-kind program, which has reached 17,000 professionals in all corners of New England, will now expand to 13 other states, including Oklahoma and West Virginia, with the help of a $52,780 federal Assistance to Firefighters grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
Cannata helped launch the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition in 2005 as a collaboration with the Norfolk district attorney’s office and the South Norfolk County ARC’s Family Autism Center. Startup funding came from the Dedham Institution for Savings.
Today the program is funded through the Autism Spectrum Division of the state Department of Mental Retardation, to the tune of some $35,000 a year, augmented by various small grants. The new federal grant will allow Cannata and his business partner and the center’s director, Betsy Roche, to go national.