HAMPSHIRE Fire and Rescue Service is bidding to become the first emergency service in the country to be Makaton-friendly.

The service says that it wants to follow in the footsteps of Romsey, which was named as the UK’s first Makaton-friendly town.

Makaton is a form of sign-based way of communicating, and it can be used by those with conditions that affect their use of language such as autism and Down Syndrome.

Romsey Fire Station is one of 30 organisations in the market town that can communicate through the language.

Now, the county fire service plans to get crews from across the county to learn the technique that the station adopted.

Of the 22 firefighters based at the station, 19 already have had a two-hour session, with the remaining firefighters planning to complete it.

Community safety officer and on-call Romsey firefighter Phil Nicholson said: “This is an extremely exciting project for us and I would love to see it rolled out throughout the service.

“Being able to communicate with everyone in the community will help us do our jobs better and quickly get important details at incidents involving people who can’t communicate through speech.

“Firefighters enjoy the trust of the public and it is important that if somebody was lost or needed help, that they know they can come to us. It is also about making people feel welcome and included in the town and improving their quality of life.”

The course teaches 20 general terms, and was organised by Hannah Anderson, from Speaking Space, who founded the project.

Hannah said: “The emergency services are a key part of the project. In an emergency situation, communication is vital and a few simple signs could make all the difference.”

“Firefighters also do a lot of community engagement and having the ability to reach these extra people and impart messages in a way not possible before, could be invaluable.”

Head of inclusion Paul Breakwell said: “Inclusion is at the heart of everything we do as a service.

“What has been happening in Romsey – and our firefighters’ part in it – is truly inspirational and we look forward to introducing this to more of our crews.

“Every firefighter is passionate about keeping the communities of Hampshire safe and improving people’s lives. Learning Makaton is a natural progression for us.”