When a local worker recently fell off of a ladder, badly injuring himself, Volunteer Firefighter Steve Halle was able to speak the only language the man knew.
“When we got there, I held the spine so he wouldn’t move, and a few minutes into it the owner of the company said he was deaf,” said Halle, the assistant fire chief. “Since he couldn’t use both hands, he tried to use one arm, and I had the lieutenant hold his head while I communicated with him.”
Because of Halle’s ability, crews were able to determine the man’s level of pain, where else he was hurting, and most importantly—they were able to tell him that everything was going to be OK.
“I am sure it calmed him down quite a bit,” Halle said. “I am sure anyone could make you feel comfortable if they spoke the same language, whether it’s a foreign language or not.”
With a fire department situated just steps away from the , Halle’s skill comes into play in a variety of situations, giving the department another tool to work with while communicating with residents in the area.
“Since we have the school for the deaf right across the street from us, it kind of helps a lot if we need some interaction with the students,” Halle said. “I don’t think a lot of people in the fire department know that I know sign language, and I think they were kind of surprised to hear about what I did.”
Halle learned sign language in graduate school during an elective course while studying occupational therapy in 1987. He said there was not a particular reason why he decided to learn sign language—he just ended up enjoying it and carrying it through other areas of his life.
“Since I am a SCUBA diver, we use sign language, too, and that really helps,” Halle said.
He also uses sign language currently as a certified and licensed occupational therapist at Manor Care on Negley Avenue.
“I have a patient who is deaf and I told the director I know sign language and got the patient right away,” he said. “Communication for six weeks has been fantastic—she’s taught me more that I didn’t know.”
said in today's world, respond to a variety of scenes and emergencies and need to be .
"Our motto in the fire service is adapt, overcome and improvise," Andrews said. "We adapt to our environment to handle any situation. We overcome any obstacle at a moment's notice to get the job done—and when all else fails, improvise to get the job done."
Halle said this added skill helps and certainly was demonstrated in his most recent experience last week in helping the man who fell.
“I was quite comfortable and stepped right in to volunteer to do it,” he said. “I communicated with the ambulance staff and told them to make sure someone at the hospital was available to communicate with him.”