There are many ways for first responders to interact with their communities, and they're worth pursuing. It's always heartening to see a strong bond between a town or city and the brave professionals who put their lives on the line to keep people safe. Sometimes, these bonding exercises involve learning, and the emergency responders can be either the learners or the teachers.

In some cases, they'll acquire new skills that help them engage with those around them, and in other cases, they'll share their accumulated knowledge. Both types of programs are worth investigating for community leaders and department chiefs.

South Carolina: Learning sign language
A recent report from WACH revealed employees of the Irmo, South Carolina, are learning American sign language to ensure that they'll be able to better serve deaf and hearing-impaired members of the community. The importance of communication can't be understated. Program director Dave Bitters noted that teaching sign language to emergency responders may help avoid a repeat from a tragic incident earlier this year. A deaf man in North Carolina died when he was shot by police officers – his family has suggested that inability to communicate played a role in what happened.

"Contact between departments and the people they serve is always critical."

The training has taken hold with several different departments throughout the state. Police officers in Lexington and Rock Hill, as well as Lexington County Sheriff's deputies have taken sign classes. Contact between departments and the people they serve is always critical. Without the aid of sign language, hearing deficiencies can be a huge impediment to communication.

Even when situations are more mundane, mutual understanding between civilians and first responders is at a premium. In emergency circumstances, the value of easy contact becomes extreme. This is one case where gaining knowledge beyond their basic job descriptions will help police officers, firefighters and paramedics better serve their departments.

Washington: Outreach in schools
Of course, first responders can improve their bonds with their communities by teaching as well as learning. The Highline Times recently zoomed in on interactions between police and fire personnel and students in Port of Seattle, Washington. The officers and firefighters treated kids from local high schools to demonstrations of equipment, as well as a chance to see police dogs in action. The first responders also spoke at length with the students, describing what it takes to join the force.

The departments intend to hire aggressively over the next few years as the Port of Seattle community grows. This means the bonds established in school outreach programs may encourage more high schoolers to become interns and potentially join the force. This pipeline of new talent may dry up in communities where the bond and trust between first responders and young residents isn't strong, which adds importance to the idea of running such programs.

With their years of experience in a unique and exciting field, emergency services employees are well qualified to speak engagingly to young people, and this could be a great way to establish a deeper connection to the community. Whether learning new skills or acting as the teachers, education may be key to improving first responders' role in towns across the country.