University News

Department of Occupational Therapy Collaborates with West Springfield Fire Department to Launch New Project Aimed at Promoting Calmness

Published: April 12, 2024 | Categories: Pharmacy and Health Sciences, All News
Members of the West Springfield Fire Department and WNE OTD students pose for a photo with BEary Bags in front of a fire engine at the WSFD station.

Western New England University (WNE) Department of Occupational Therapy, in collaboration with the West Springfield Fire Department (WSFD), proudly announces the launch of the "BEary Calm Bags" project. Designed to enhance the emergency response experience for individuals in need of extra assistance, these innovative drawstring bags contain carefully curated items aimed at promoting a sense of calmness and comfort during ambulance rides.

The "BEary Calm Bags" include a range of sensory aids carefully selected to address various needs. Items such as sunglasses, noise-canceling headphones, pop-it fidgets, weighted lap pads, communication aides, and a pinwheel for deep breathing offer practical solutions for managing sensory input and promoting relaxation. By prioritizing safety, portability, and ease of use, the project aims to improve the overall experience for both patients and emergency responders.

"Through specialized training from WNE's experts in disability studies, our EMT's and paramedics will gain invaluable skills and strategies to address the diverse needs of our community during emergencies," said West Springfield Fire Chief C.J. Bartone. "The introduction of sensory bag is a significant step in ensuring WSFD can provide compassionate and effective care to its community. "

The project was inspired by the recognition that emergency situations can be particularly challenging for individuals with sensory sensitivities, developmental disabilities, trauma histories, or communication barriers. Assistant Professors Alexis Morin and Erin Wells, both seasoned occupational therapists and the lead collaborators for the project, drew upon their extensive experience working with diverse populations to develop this initiative.

"As occupational therapists, we understand that every individual's brain and body processes information differently based on who they are and what they have experienced," said Morin. "During an emergency response, an individual may have extra difficulty with remaining regulated or calm due to their own sensory processing and previous experiences."

Wells, a devoted parent of a child with Down syndrome, brought a personal perspective to the project, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity and accessibility in emergency response. "Projects like the BEary Calm Bags that aim to remove barriers and make the emergency response experience less intimidating are meaningful," said Wells. "They let the members of the community know that individuals with disabilities or differences are seen and that their experience matters."

Morin's husband, Zak, a paramedic, and lieutenant with the West Springfield Fire Department, played a pivotal role in facilitating the collaboration. His firsthand experiences in the field underscored the potential benefits of providing specialized support tools to both patients and responders.

Drs. Morin and Wells, along with a dedicated team of second-year occupational therapy students, including EllaGrace Brunton, Brooke McKeon, and Jordyn Robertson, have worked tirelessly to develop and implement the "BEary Calm Bags" project. They assisted in developing the visuals, as well as a training video that the first responders will watch to become familiar with each item in the bag and how it can be utilized for anyone during an emergency response. Their efforts reflect the Department of Occupational Therapy's commitment to fostering transformative change and addressing the diverse needs of individuals and communities.

Looking ahead, the project seeks to expand its reach beyond the West Springfield Fire Department, with plans to gather feedback from first responders to inform future enhancements. Grant funding applications have been submitted to ensure the sustainability and growth of the initiative.

"This project embodies the core values of our department and University," stated Morin. "We are dedicated to empowering individuals and enhancing their quality of life, especially in critical moments."

The launch of the "BEary Calm Bags" project marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to create more inclusive and supportive emergency response practices. Through collaboration, innovation, and compassion, Western New England University Department of Occupational Therapy and the West Springfield Fire Department are setting a new standard for community-centered care.

"We are grateful for the support from both the WNE OTD Program to get this pilot going, as well as the collaboration with the WSFD," said Wells. "We are hopeful that this project can make the emergency response as calm and efficient of an experience as it can be for both the client and the first responders."