Fairfax County fire and rescue workers will begin a new training course in sign language Monday to bridge the communications gap between the county's deaf community and emergency personnel.
Deputy Fire Chief Gary A. Mesaris said the county considered a sign language training course several months ago, but a recent car accident on I-95 that involved four deaf victims reinforced officials' belief that there is a need for such a program.
All fire and rescue personnel would be required to learn at least a hundred "emergency words" illustrated in the department's new sign language manual. The manual, which was adapted from a booklet used by the Los Angeles Fire Department, depicts the sign alphabet, numbers and assorted words and phrases used in emergency situations.
Life-saving questions and directions for injured deaf people illustrated in the four-page pamphlet include, "Do you have chest pains?" "Are you taking medication?" and "You stay still."
Fire and rescue recruits will have the sign language class included in their 15-week class schedule at the county's training academy on West Ox Road. All other emergency service workers would take quarterly or monthly classes at designated fire company station houses, said Mesaris.
"This is something you can't learn just once -- you need practice at it," said Mesaris.
Human services officials estimate that about 3 percent of county residents are hearing-impaired.