SUNDERLAND, Mass. (WWLP) – The Sunderland Fire Department began the start of Pride Month by offering the first-ever LGBTQIA+ first responder awareness training.

This was the first time the training was offered however, there was representation from more than 15 different area departments with members ranging from fire, police, dispatchers, and EMS organizations in attendance.

First responders developed a working knowledge of relevant terms and experience in using the correct language when speaking with LGBTQIA+ community members. The gender-neutral language taught to first responders is geared toward moving away from a gendered language such as sir or ma’am when speaking to people.

First responders learned how to also ask people what their pronouns are and how to effectively ask medically relevant questions without being disrespectful to transgender individuals.

The training was done in a three-hour presentation with active participation from attendees engaged in activities, handouts, and practice scenarios.

Sunderland Fire Captain Mike Zeoli told 22News how this new form of training is beneficial to first responder’s knowledge and helps better serve the community. “First responders (EMS, fire and police, 911 dispatchers) are tasked with interacting with all walks of life. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are often overlooked or misunderstood by First Responders and health care providers. This training aims to provide an introduction to LGBTQIA+ terminology, how it relates to our work as first responders, and some best practices for interacting with the LGBTQIA+ community in the performance of our duties,” he said.

Sunderland fire began the training after one of the firefighters thought it was important training for first responders. “Based on his training and experience serving members of the western Massachusetts community, and thorough research, he realized that this training specifically for the first responder wasn’t being offered. He took the initiative to develop the training to present to his coworkers and other first responders,” Zeoli said.

Due to this training, EMS providers, first responders, and dispatchers leave better prepared to interact with the diverse population served in western Massachusetts. Zeoli says this training has already been requested by several fire departments and will be presented at both the Massachusetts and Connecticut fire prevention and education conferences in the coming months.