Fredericton firefighters are the first in Canada to undergo a specialized training program to help them deal with emergency victims who may have autism.

Bill Cannata, a Boston-area firefighter with 35 years of experience and a 24-year-old son with autism, developed the program.

“Oftentimes they try to flee the scene or they’ll aggress towards a rescuer to keep them away from them, so these are the tips that we’re giving these people, of how to handle these people,” says Cannata.

He has trained firefighters in most U.S. states and in other countries, but the Fredericton firefighters are the first Canadians to take the course.

Fredericton Fire Platoon Capt. Steven Fraser has been a firefighter for more than two years. He says the training will make him a better first responder.

“It just increases our awareness of some of the situations we may encounter, responding to calls with people … who have children with Asperger’s or those sorts of things and we can adjust our responses accordingly,” says Fraser.

Cannata says people with autism don’t always recognize the dangers associated with emergencies, such as a fire or a car crash. He says most are sensitive to lights and loud noises and the usual fast pace of emergency scenes.

“So, if we can take those quick steps to slow things down, we get far better results,” he says. “We can’t always do that, in some emergencies we have to move quickly, and then what we tell them is what to expect from people with autism when we have to react in that manner.”

The Fredericton firefighters likely won’t be the only Canadians to take Cannata’s course; he says he has heard from other Canadian fire departments interested in the training program.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Andy Campbell