EAST TAWAS – The sun is shining, American flags are waving in the air and a crowd of people are cheering in anticipation for the Tawas Fourth of July parade.
The Ostrosky family of Tecumseh, who own a cottage in East Tawas, one of the many families at the parade, sit off to the side so they’ll be able to leave early if necessary. Kelli Ostrosky quickly realizes that the family is sitting near a line of fire trucks.
“We really thought they were going to actually be in route and go through the parade, so they wouldn’t be there for very long, but I think they were stationary,” said Ostrosky.
For some people this may not seem very important, but for 12-year-old Jayden Ostrosky, it was the reason for his anxiety. Kelli said that Jayden has some sensory issues which cause him to meltdown and have anxiety sometimes.
“They were parked for longer than we anticipated and essentially the longer we sat there the more anxious he got about not knowing if they were going to activate their sirens and he was really worried about that,” she said.
It got so bad that Jayden began crying, covering his ears, asking to leave and backing up to sit on the sidewalk. She asked her son if it would be helpful if she went across the street and asked the firefighters how long they were going to stay there and when they were going to sound their sirens. He nodded his head and Kelli made her way over to the firefighters.
“I didn’t really know what I was going to say when I went up to them other than I need a little bit of help,” she said.
Kelli told the firefighters that she had a child with some disabilities and sensory issues and was having trouble because of her family being positioned by the fire trucks. She asked the firefighters if they would be willing to wait to turn on their sirens until they moved passed the family.
The firefighters said they could definitely do that and explained that they could do more than that. East Tawas Fire Department (ETFD) Lieutenant Tom Seigo contacted the East Tawas and Tawas City departments expected to be in the parade with them and asked them to hold off their sirens until they passed the family during the parade.
“I just think it shows the mold that most firefighters are cut from,” said ETFD Chief Bill Deckett.
He said that sometimes the stereotype is that firefighters just go on scene and break windows, but firefighters actually deal with more than that.
“The number one thing with firefighters is people. That’s always the most important thing,” he said.
After Seigo contacted all the departments, Firefighter Kevan Humerickhouse walked over to Jayden and explained to him that the firefighters were going to wait to turn on their sirens until they were passed him. He also offered Jayden his headset (to help block out the sound) and asked him if he wanted to put it on.
“I think he could see that it was helping, but he was still kind of anxious and unsure of what would happen next,” said Kelli.
When Humerickhouse came over again to ask Jayden if he wanted to watch the parade with him, he happily obliged. In addition to receiving an invitation to stand with him and Humerickhouse’s headset, Jayden was also given some candy and a popsicle collected for him by Kiersten Ann. Humerickhouse replied to Kelli’s story that was published on Facebook and acknowledged some of the major players that made the action possible.
“Glad we could make his day better. It wouldn’t have been possible without Joel Humerickhouse, Tom Seigo and Kiersten Ann,” said Kevan.
Kelli said that the experience was an important one for Jayden and taught him a valuable lesson about firefighters. She said that the experience taught him that firefighters and their trucks aren’t scary. She also said that he learned that firefighters are helpers who help the community in other ways.
“A lot of kids that have disabilities like him they have to experience things first hand, that’s the best way that a lot of kids learn,” Kelli said.
She said after Jayden accepted the invitation her son wasn’t crying, backing up or covering his ears anymore and could actually enjoy the parade like everyone else.
“We really try to not shelter him from opportunities because we’ve been advised that that’s not in his best interest, but that he should be fully integrated into everything that’s going on in the community,” said Kelli. “Sometimes he needs some adaptation or accommodations to make that possible, but our goal is that he can go to anything and participate in anything that he wants to.”
She also said that when a parent is raising a child with disabilities they can never really be sure what’s around the corner and the challenges they might face. However, in this situation Kelli said that having a meltdown over the situation was incredibly out of character for Jayden.
“We have gone to parades before. He’s always been kind of hesitant or he’ll sometimes cover his ear if he thinks there’s going to be a loud noise, but he has never had a full fledged meltdown during any community outing really that I can remember,” she said.
Following the parade, Kelli reached out to the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce and spoke with Executive Director Penny Payea about her story. They also discussed the potential of having a sensory friendly space for children and adults in the future. As someone who doesn’t have a child with disabilities Payea said it’s not something that she thinks about on a regular basis because she doesn’t handle something like that all the time.
“There are a lot of people out there with concerns and we want to be able to make the celebration available to everyone,” said Payea.
She said that because Fourth of July is a holiday filled with all different kinds of sounds that it might be difficult, but there’s got to be a way and she plans to figure it out. Further, Payea told Kelli that the conversation would continue with her board members at a future meeting.
“It is definitely something that is on our radar and we have a lot of backing for that, a lot of phone calls and emails, but we want to do it right,” said Payea.
She said it’s important to her that she sits down with the fire department and the city manager and discusses some areas that would be an adequate place for it. At the moment, the idea is just in its infant stage which includes discussion and research.
“We want to make sure it’s a place accessible to everybody that wants to be there,” said Payea.
Kelli said she was blown away by how embraced the family has been by the community since the parade.
“I didn’t really expect that they would be so welcoming into some new ideas. Not every community is,” said Kelli. “I just want to express my appreciation that they really did go above and beyond and worked quickly to alleviate his anxiety and just allowed us to enjoy the event as a family.”