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Signing up to help our communities
Croxteth Firefighter Faith Gadsdon writes about her experiences working with a deaf/blind member of the community and explains how sign language training has helped her and other MFRS staff members communicate with vulnerable people.
“Sometimes changing the approach to a situation can lead to a fantastic working partnership, a very real connection with communities and a deeper understanding of at-risk groups.
“Keith Mitchell, 64, is a resident at Dene Court on Long Lane in Fazakerly, which is self-contained accommodation. He was born profoundly deaf, with eyesight problems, and was eventually registered blind at 15 years old. He lives alone and, above all else, cherishes his independence.
“Some of you will have met Keith after attending false alarms at his flat, usually caused by cooking fat from his grill or cigar smoke. These led to visits from numerous agencies including MFRS and Merseyside Society for Deaf People.
“Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, these interventions left Keith upset and frustrated because his ability to live independently was being scrutinised and questioned.
“I met Keith a few times while on M19P1 and, having learnt Manual British Sign Language as a child, I always took the time to sign to him so that he knew what was going on.
“This seemingly small effort to communicate has grown into a genuine trust that has enabled myself and Watch Manager Ronnie Duffy to work with Keith and reduce fire calls to his home.
“In June 2015 Keith and his sister, Lesley, agreed to meet with myself and Vera Deacon, the Dene Court Scheme Manager. It had a very positive outcome and
since then Vera and I have sought to protect Keith’s independence, ease his anxiety towards MFRS intervention and dramatically reduce the accidental fire calls to his home.
“This was achieved by a number of small but effective measures; introducing Braille cards to make communication easier, sourcing a cleaner to help look after his grill and forging a new relationship with MFRS that has enabled him to acknowledge his own responsibility to his safety.
“Since then, Vera has wanted to pass on the skills to MFRS staff which would allow them to communicate with Keith and other deaf/blind people effectively, using Block Alphabet Signing. Recently, with the help of Firefighter Mark Buchanan, Vera has successfully carried out training sessions at Croxteth Fire Station.
“Block Alphabet Signing is basic and easy to learn and the feedback from all involved has been positive. The strength of the partnership between Riverside, through Vera, and MFRS has proved invaluable.”
Any staff member who feels they may benefit from receiving Block Signing Training please contact our Diversity and Consultation Manager, Wendy Kenyon, at
Vera Deacon, Keith Mitchell and Faith Gadsdon.
Firefighter Gadsdon communicates with Keith Mitchell.
Staff at Croxteth learn how to sign.

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