Front row, from left: David V. Whalen, project director of Niagara University’s First Responder Disability Awareness Training, and Karen McMahon, New York state assemblymember. Back row, from left: Dr. Tim Ireland, Niagara University provost and vice president of Academic Affairs; John Askey, Amherst chief of police; Brian Kulpa, Amherst superintendent; and Dr. Deborah Bucki, Amherst council member.

Niagara University’s commitment to foster diversity and inclusion is exemplified in the leadership role it has taken to enhance awareness of, and service to, people with disabilities. In 2010, the university was awarded a grant to develop the First Responder Disability Awareness Training program, a curriculum for law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical services, and 911 operators/dispatchers to educate and ensure proper, proactive response to include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. That program will now be available for first responders in the Town of Amherst, N.Y., thanks to $15,000 funding secured by New York State Assemblymember Karen McMahon.

“Our first responders find themselves in extremely challenging situations on a daily basis, and ensuring that they are able to do their jobs effectively and provide the best care to those who need them is paramount,” said Assemblymember McMahon. “I’m proud to have secured this funding to provide training services to emergency responders so they can help anyone with any disability or condition.”

Law enforcement training was conducted earlier this year, and NUFRDAT is now scheduled to work with firefighters, EMS, 9-1-1 tele communicators, municipal employees, and parents of and people with disabilities.

“Everyone needs disability awareness training,” said David V. Whalen, project director of the university’s First Responder Disability Awareness Training. “However, first responders have found themselves in challenging scenarios that can be addressed with this specialized training. While many have yet to receive the program, we applaud Assemblymember McMahon for addressing the need for this training in Amherst.”

"The Town of Amherst Police Department would like to thank Assemblymember Karen McMahon and Niagara University for their efforts in facilitating this training. We are always looking for ways to improve services, and I can think of no more important objective than to better serve and collaborate with individuals with disabilities," said Amherst Chief of Police John Askey. "I would also like to thank Supervisor Brian Kulpa and the entire Amherst Town Board.  It is because of their enthusiastic support that we are implementing projects and programs that will benefit the Eggertsville community, the Town of Amherst, and neighboring communities for years to come."

The NUFRDAT program is customized for each first responder discipline – emergency management, firefighters, 911 operators/dispatchers, emergency medical services (EMS), and law enforcement. Created in cooperation with all major first responder associations, councils and state offices, the training is designed to give first responders the knowledge necessary to best serve and respond to individuals with disabilities. It is the only program in the nation that provides fully comprehensive training for first responders on how to respond to emergencies involving individuals with disabilities, including mental health issues.

New York, South Dakota, and Missouri have contracted NUFRDAT’s full training program, while Virginia, New Jersey, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas have contracted it in various capacities. The Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), the largest in the United States and universally recognized as the world's busiest and most highly skilled emergency response agency, has also contracted NUFRDAT for training.

“It is amazing what Dave has accomplished over the last decade in partnership with Niagara University,” said Dr. Timothy Ireland, provost and vice president of academic affairs. “The FRDAY training has placed Niagara University on a national stage, and Dave’s progress, very much in line with our Catholic and Vincentian heritage, provides critical training so that first responders have the skills to properly respond in an emergency situation to individuals with disabilities.” 

In 2017, NUFRDAT received a three-year, $320,000 grant from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to fund the development of a training program to educate emergency managers, those who have a role in emergency response, individuals with disabilities, and service provider agencies on planning, preparedness, response, and recovery for individuals with disabilities.

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