Having grown up with an uncle with mental retardation, Faus said he understands the importance of becoming familiar with the health challenges faced by a person with special needs.
"We shouldn't have to be scared about dealing with this particular clientele, especially. We need to have a better understanding of what they go through," he said.
This year's conference, held at the Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department Jan. 29, drew more than 70 people from departments across the region. Many have attended the event since its inception.
"We've been to every one they've offered," said Jerry Dumas, first assistant chief with Bangor Volunteer Fire Department and EMS. "It's a great opportunity for us because you don't get a lot of this style training to help the special needs population."
Dumas said he has seen an increase in the number of people in the region with varying special needs, which leads to a need for a better understanding of their medical and behavioral conditions.
"It takes a lot of special knowledge and special considerations because we're basically the first line of medical treatment for whatever the particular issue may be," said Dumas. "The better interaction we can have with those individuals from the onset is going to make for a better experience across the board."
Nelly Stipdonk, an EMS educator at John Abbott College in Montreal, Que., and member stateside in the Saranac Volunteer Fire Department, agreed.
"On a daily basis, we come in contact with patients who are either hearing-impaired or who have other special needs," said Stipdonk. "I think special needs are something we absolutely need to become familiar with and understand and accept."
In her native Quebec, Stipdonk said having that understanding is even more important due to the considerably higher amount of non-life-threatening calls to which departments there respond.