Firefighters Try To Bridge Language Barrier


Monday, March 5th 2007, 8:05 pm
By: News On 6


Tulsa's growing Hispanic population is increasingly affecting the city's first responders. Some say the language barrier could mean the difference between life and death. The News On 6’s Ashli Sims reports now, some east Tulsa firefighters are getting some language lessons from an unlikely source.

Once or twice a week, the firefighters from Station 27, the busiest in the city, take time out to go back to school.

"These guys have the most active truck in the city, if not in the state of Oklahoma, and they still want to take time out to do this and they should be highly commended for it," said District Chief Steve Gage.

The first responders are learning Spanish to try to keep up with a changing community.

"The people that we deal with, their English is broken or sometimes they can't speak English,” Gage said. “So it's hard for us to get information from them, especially if they're injured."

"Very difficult at times,” said Tulsa Fire Paramedic Gerald Luschen. “Cause you know we're here to help and we try to take care of the public, and your hands are tied to a certain degree. You feel very helpless"

Enter Tulsa's Bilingual Resource Center, which had recently opened Garnett Bilingual Preschool. Station 27's relationship with the preschool started with their playground. They came over to give it a wash and walked away with an opportunity to learn a new language.

"We found a need and we wanted to help," Heather Hodges with the Tulsa Bilingual Resource Center said.

Heather Hodges raised the money and borrowed some of the staff from the preschool to offer the class to the firefighters for free.

"So that's the good thing about this curriculum, it's targeted specifically for their job,” Hodges said. “They're not learning a lot of verb conjugations, they're learning what they need on the job, how to save lives."

They've been training for less than a month, but they're already putting their new Spanish skills to use.

"It’s really neat when all of a sudden you're sitting there and your ears perk up, and its like, 'hey, I got that word,'" Luschen said.

Obviously, this touches on a hot political topic, but the firefighters say they're a-political. For them, learning Spanish is a practical matter that could help save lives.