Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>Bilingual program helps firefighters

Leader staff writer

Language barriers can hinder conversations and can be devastating in the case of emergencies. Several Cabot employees are trying to eliminate those barriers by taking a language course taught by the Cabot School District’s English as a Second Language (ESL) coordinator.

The result of that language course was a Hispanic fire awareness program held Thursday evening at Westside Elementary School, with help from the school’s parent center.

“We noticed the community was growing in the Latino area,” Fire Chief Phil Robinson said. “As a result we have several calls where there is a language barrier,” he said.

Two police officers and three firefighters, along with a city payroll employee, are taking Spanish 101 for emergency workers, taught by the district’s ESL teacher, Karyna Cintron-Carbone, to help better the communication between workers and the Hispanic community.

“The chief had a need,” Carbone said. “They have encountered Hispanics doing illegal burns that didn’t know they were doing something wrong.”

The chief added that learning the language will help when they respond to a Spanish-speaking resident. Emergency personnel will be able to find out where someone is hurting, or in the case of a fire, know if people are still inside the residence.

By translating for the fire department at Thursday’s fire awareness program, Carbone hopes families will understand about fire prevention and fire safety.

“Hopefully they learn about fire safety and realize the fire department is their friend and is here to help,” she said.
Robinson also hoped the program would help put a face to the uniform.

“If they’re not familiar with firefighters, all they see is a badge and think they are in trouble,” he said. “By being there, I hope they know all people wearing a badge aren’t a bad sign,” he added.

Thursday’s program introduced Cabot’s Hispanic community to the fire department.

“We told them what we do, showed them pictures of the stations and engines, let them tour one of the fire engines and hopefully gave them a general understanding of the fire department,” Robinson said.

Carbone said Cabot’s ESL student community, of which not all are Spanish speaking, is growing every year. There are 80 ESL students this year; this past school year began with 45 students and ended with 71.

All of the ESL students attend Westside Elementary, the district’s international academy.

“There are nine languages spoken at Westside,” Carbone said, “but the largest amount is Spanish.”

The Hispanics living in Cabot moved there for the same reason everyone else does, Carbone said, the good schools and nice community. “But they are an isolated group so hopefully now they will feel like more of the community,” she said.