It took only a second for Patrick Branam’s young son Bryson to slip out of the house unnoticed, but a little preparation helped the story have a happy ending.
Branam, a Lexington firefighter, had set up the cellphone numbers of his neighbors as a group on his smartphone, and with a single text, he can mobilize a neighborhood search crew, including one person to stand guard at the pool.
When Bryson, now 5, left the house, a neighbor peeked out and saw the boy, who has autism, walking in the snow.
When a child with autism goes missing, the fire department might be the first to begin the search.
“I want to make that different,” Branam said. “I want families to interact with their neighbors.”
Branam and other Lexington firefighters will host an event Saturday to help children with autism and their parents prepare for emergencies.
Autism Safety Day is noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Fire Station 20, 3001 Arrowhead Drive, off Harrodsburg Road.
“We’ve designed this day to connect families with the support and resources they need to increase their chances of a positive outcome in the event of an emergency involving their child,” Branam said.
Kids can meet firefighters and try on their gear.
“The big fire suit can be intimidating, even for adults,” Branam said. “We want kids on the autism spectrum to know that when they encounter a firefighter, they are safe.”
There also will be free food, ice cream, games, a bounce house, door prizes and family pictures.
The fire department will have its “smoke trailer” on site. The trailer mimics a home and allows families to practice getting out. Branam said visiting it will “maybe help parents know how their child would react” in the event of a fire.
There will be training for using fire extinguishers and performing hands-only CPR, and families can sign up for Smart 911.
A sensory tent will be set up, and licensed occupational and physical therapists will be present to share information about the unique needs of children on the autism spectrum.
Branam said he and his family felt alone when Bryson was first diagnosed, and community events such as this one can help parents connect.
He said the fire department expects about 200 children at the event, which will help firefighters and paramedics learn more about children with autism.
“This gives us (firefighters) an opportunity to learn about a growing population in our community,” he said. “We learn from them probably more than they learn from us.”