Posted on June 16, 2005

Language Less of a Barrier for Firefighters

Mary Lou Pickel, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 15

Ever been to a fire and no one spoke English?

DeKalb County firefighters have.

To help firefighters communicate with bystanders and save lives, Georgia Perimeter College has printed up key chains with basic firefighting questions in 10 languages common in DeKalb County. Now firefighters can ask, “Are there any people in the building?” in Amharic, Serbo-Croatian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Somali, Yorba, Ibo, French, Arabic and Korean.

DeKalb County, and particularly Clarkston, with its affordable apartments, relatively low cost of living and access to public transportation, has become a magnet for refugee resettlement in metro Atlanta. Seventeen percent of DeKalb County’s households don’t speak English as a first language, Georgia Perimeter College officials said.

The small laminated cheat sheets will hang on the key chain of each fire station’s engine truck, which is usually the first truck to arrive at a scene, DeKalb County Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Lori Stanley said.

The initiative began after a fire killed three at the Cherokee Apartments near Clarkston in March. Firefighters had a hard time communicating with residents standing outside because of language barriers, Stanley said. “There was a lot of chaos.”