JoJo Tuinstra of Kuna is like many 18-year-olds. He goes to college, busies himself with hobbies like playing the piano and learning Spanish, and dreams of vacationing to places like Tokyo. JoJo Tuinstra also has spastic cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user, which means he and his family have had to think outside the box when it comes to moving him in emergency situations. Because of the family’s creative thinking, a medical rescue chair and some training, the Kuna Rural Fire District is now better prepared to address the functional needs of people with disabilities in emergency situations. His mother, LaDonna Tuinstra, first thought of this problem when she found out JoJo’s school had him use the elevator during a fire drill instead of the stair chair that had been decided on in the safety plan. “A kiddo with special needs needs extra practice, not less practice in the event of an emergency or a deviation from the plan,” LaDonna Tuinstra said. The issue further weighed on her heart after they had to contact the Boise Fire Department when a wheelchair lift broke and JoJo Tuinstra was unable to get down the stairs of the Bishop’s House in Boise where he had been playing piano. LaDonna Tuinstra said because it wasn’t an emergency situation, it was very low stress. “It was not stressful at all, it was good training. It was good practice. We got to brainstorm ideas,” LaDonna Tuinstra said. “It could have been a terrifying experience if we were trying to get out quickly.” As she thought about potential emergency scenarios, she decided to call Jeff Riechmann, co-founder of Courageous Kids Climbing. Riechmann, who is a retired firefighter, and his team put on events throughout the western U.S. for kids with disabilities to come out and climb rock walls with the assistance of local first responders. The Tuinstras knew him from going to his events. LaDonna Tuinstra said she knew if anyone could help them come up with a solution, it would be Riechmann. Riechmann reached out to MedSource, a medical equipment and product company, to see if they had any medical-grade slings that JoJo could be carried in. The company responded by providing 10 Patient Mover Rescue Chairs to the nonprofit. The rescue chair was designed to be used to move patients between beds in a hospital or nursing home setting, according to Riechmann. It is small enough to fit inside a backpack. MedSource never envisioned the rescue chair being used by first responders. The company asked if, in addition to giving a chair to the Tuinstras, Riechmann and Courageous Kids Climbing could introduce them to first responders. They said to come back to the company with any changes the first responders said should be made. Riechmann and the Tuinstras quickly set up an appointment in February to meet with members of the Kuna Rural Fire District and Ada County Paramedics and helped them practice using the rescue chair and learn what questions to ask wheelchair users in emergency situations. “It was really nice to be able to help them and just be able to have a rapport with them and know that lifting me was no Sisyphean task. They just had to get enough guys and then it was absurdly easy,” JoJo Tuinstra said. “I do feel confident in them.” Riechmann said the firefighters were so enthusiastic about the rescue chair that they asked if they could have one. LaDonna Tuinstra said she feels comforted that JoJo and other wheelchair users in the community will be better cared for if an emergency situation arises. “Every kid, or adult, or person in a wheelchair is going to have different abilities and different needs,” LaDonna Tuinstra said. “And if you just walk up to them and start grabbing and start reaching, you could hurt them. And so it’s important to ask all the questions. And so, coming away how I felt, I have more faith that if I’m incapacitated, if I’m unable to help them provide information, they will know what to do. They will have an idea of how to interact with him.” The Kuna Rural Fire District could not be reached for comment. The Tuinstras also showed the emergency personnel how their adapted van worked, just in case they ever needed to extract someone from one. Reichmann said that training like this is important to him because he knows from his 28-year career as a firefighter how scarce education experiences surrounding these topics are. “Not once did anybody in my training ever mention special needs,” Riechmann said. “And since I’ve started working with these kids, I have seen and learned about so many different challenges that these kids have that in an emergency would impact how the first responders would respond to that. And they don’t know. So we’re just enlightening them.” According to Riechmann, the rescue chairs are $25 apiece and come in packs of 10. JoJo Tuinstra said he hopes that more emergency responders will adopt the rescue chairs given their cost-effectiveness. “If it’s cheap and it helps that much more people, it’s a vector that you should definitely explore,” JoJo Tuinstra said. “If you have the right tools to deal with people emotionally, and you have the right tools to deal with people physically, like, danger-wise, that’s going to galvanize you.” For JoJo and LaDonna Tuinstra, this is just one step to helping communities to become more accessible to wheelchair users. LaDonna Tuinstra said that by people becoming more aware and putting an effort in to help address the functional needs of people with disabilities, everyone will be able to fully interact as members of the community and everyone will be safer. “We want all of our members of the community to be able to interact in the community and it is not always designed with accessibility in mind,” LaDonna Tuinstra said. “And so if we’re going to try to involve our people with special needs, things will break, things will not go as planned. And that’s kind of our job as a community is to come behind them and support them and keep them as safe as possible.”
JoJo Tuinstra of Kuna is like many 18-year-olds. He goes to college, busies himself with hobbies like playing the piano and learning Spanish, and dreams of vacationing to places like Tokyo. JoJo Tuinstra also has spastic cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user, which means he and his family have had to think outside the box when it comes to moving him in emergency situations.