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[whitespace] Local firefighter building a NEST

Book to help assist firefighters in communicating with non-English speaking members of the community

Cupertino--Tim Jew, a firefighter/engineer, hopes to complete his NEST within 30 days. It's just not the type you'd store eggs in.

NEST, the Non-English Speaking Tool, is a book Jew has worked to assemble for about a year. The book lists phrases in different languages, important in the work of firefighters, so they can handle emergency situations involving non-English speakers despite language barriers.

Jew works at Fire Station No. 1 on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino. He says the idea for the NEST "came about out of a need, the need to reach out to our non-English speaking citizens that have reached out to us through the 911 system."

Jew hopes to remove the difficulties posed by language barriers in handling emergency situations. He cites several instances, such as one involving a Chinese-speaking woman who was struck by a car, where the quality of emergency service suffered because of communication problems. "We're constantly going on calls for people who don't speak English," he says.

"Firefighters are 'type A' people who enjoy helping others," he continues. "As a firefighter, it's frustrating to be unable to help someone because you can't communicate with them."

This frustration inspired Jew to create the NEST. When firefighters arrive on the scene of an emergency involving a non-English speaker, they determine which language the person may speak, such as Asian, European, Middle Eastern, or Hispanic. After determining that, the book offers a sampling of phrases in different languages that may apply.

Once firefighters determine which language the person speaks, they can direct a series of questions to the victim concerning the incident. For example, if firefighters receive a call from a house on fire, they ask routine questions, such as "Is anyone still in the house?" and "How many children are in the house?" The book has pictures and responses the person can point to, and the corresponding English translations.

The book also has basic questions and answers written in English, so firefighters can better help those who cannot hear or speak.

Jew believes the books will greatly improve the ways in which the department respond to people, who may have just recently moved to the United States, in emergency situations. He says it especially could affect the elder parents of immigrant technology workers, who have come to this country with their children but may not speak English well. This fact indicated to Jew the need for something like NEST. "As the community grows in diversity," Jew says, "the fire department grows in diversity to serve it."

To get the translations, Jew enlisted the help of community members in Santa Clara County. Jew says many store owners and employees were extremely helpful.

"Once I presented the idea as to why I needed some stuff translated, they were glad to help us," Jew explains.

He says the project would not have happened without the support of the community since the cost of professional interpreters would have made the project too expensive to undertake.

Jew also credits the fire department's administration for "helping to drum up support for the project." NEST required no additional funding from the department, but without the assistance of fire department brass, Jew says, the project wouldn't have gone through. The book needed paper, binders, lamination and the language expertise of the community and relatives of firefighters to go from idea to reality. Jew says these materials didn't cost the department much money, but the contribution in terms of work and support was immeasurable.

Jew hopes to release the books on a trial basis by the end of the month and, after that, to equip every Santa Clara County fire vehicle with a NEST. Jew wants to see a NEST in each of the 16 fire engines, three trucks, five patrols cars, as well as inside the hazardous materials and rescue units.
Kevin Fayle

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