It's not unusual for fire and emergency medical services personnel to get training in a second language, because knowing even a few foreign words and phrases can help a lot when they're trying to help people through a crisis.
"You often see people get training in generic Spanish, maybe Korean if you're on the West Coast," said Fire Chief Chris Connelly, Naval District Washington/NAS Patuxent River District Fire Chief.
Here at Pax River, 40 emergency services personnel received second language training in American Sign Language, a class led by the Interpreting Services Office, a component of Naval Air Warfare Center - Aircraft Division Equal Employment Opportunity.
The Interpreting Services Office's Lora Cheah, Lisette Madalena, Kara Russell and Candace Strayer provided the one-hour instruction to each firehouse shift July 16 and 17.
While the class taught the emergency personnel a few basic signs for words such as "help," "hurt" and "medicine," Cheah said, the trainees also asked the trainers to teach them words they use often at emergency scenes, such as "allergic."
However, the focus wasn't to turn emergency personnel into sign-language interpreters, Cheah said.
Rather, the sessions emphasized recognizing when someone encountered in an emergency situation is deaf or hard of hearing, and what the most efficient possible means of communication would be.
Cheah said that often means simply having paper and pen handy.
The firefighters learned that while some people with hearing loss might speak to them, it doesn't necessarily mean those people understand what the emergency responders are saying in return. It's important not to turn away while you're speaking to him or her because he or she may be reading lips, Cheah added.
According to Cheah, NAVAIR currently employs 21 deaf or hard-of-hearing people, but that number fluctuates. She said there may be more employed as contractors on base and there are deaf family members.
While the odds that firefighters could encounter one of them during the performance of their duties is slim, Connelly said, "we have to be prepared. It adds to our tool box."