Valley Regional Fire Authority Achieves Prestigious KultureCity® Certification, Furthering Commitment to Inclusivity

The Valley Regional Fire Authority (VRFA) is proud to announce that we are the first fire service agency in Washington State to achieve the prestigious KultureCity® Sensory Inclusive™ First Responder Certification. KultureCity® is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting inclusivity and accessibility for individuals with sensory needs. To obtain this certification, nearly all uniformed and non-uniformed members completed online training sessions led by medical and neurodivergent professionals to recognize individuals with sensory needs and effectively manage situations involving sensory overload.

The VRFA first learned about KultureCity® after Captain Reed Astley visited the Phoenix Zoo with his family. Astley’s daughter is one of more than 1 in 4 people in the United States who are neurodivergent. While at the zoo, he and his wife asked for a sensory bag, noticed the high quality of the kit provided, and saw the logo on the bag in several places around the zoo grounds. One of the items in the kit was a set of cards with pictures that their daughter used to point out how she was feeling or what she needed. These cards were so helpful that they wanted to know where to get more. That is when they discovered KultureCity®.

Captain Astley was enthusiastic about introducing the program to the VRFA’s leadership team and believed the organization would benefit from sensory bags at fire stations and on fire apparatus. Astley says, “I have been a first responder for 20 years, and the population has doubled during this time. We are interacting with more people with different life circumstances and needs. People may not always remember what you say or do, but they will remember how you made them feel. Anything we can do to show compassion to those going through difficult times is worth adopting.”

After completing the certification process in late April, the VRFA received a supply of KultureCity® sensory bags. These bags are now carried on all fire engines, aid cars, and staff vehicles and are located at each fire station. The kits include noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and other helpful items. Astley says, “A big red fire truck or ambulance, with bright lights and loud sirens, can be very intimidating and dysregulating for people. Having a group of strangers wearing all sorts of gear, with flashlights, radios, and loud monitoring equipment, coming into their safe place can potentially be worse for someone than the reason that made them need 911 assistance in the first place.” He continued, “We can create a more comfortable situation by showing up more discreetly and thoughtfully and providing a kit to hand to the parent or caregiver before entering. We show them we are prepared and trained not just to mitigate the emergency but to take care of the human side of the situation. We show them that we see them and that we care.”

KultureCity® has recognized that some people don’t withdraw from communities by choice but due to circumstances, as they worry about whether the world will accept or include them. However, despite this fear, KultureCity®’s motto of “Making the Nevers Possible” can be helpful for both fun times and emergencies. It is unacceptable for someone to be afraid to call 911 in an emergency due to worry about how they or their loved one might be perceived or fear that the fire department won’t be able to provide the appropriate care and understanding. Being more afraid of the cure than the ailment can be terrifying. The VRFA’s mission statement declares that “we serve the whole community.” We are committed to using the KultureCity® Sensory Inclusive™ program to better serve all community members.