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Merrillville Council honors Ben's Blue Bags, Operation Combat Bikesaver honors Merrillville Police

screenshot from Merrillville Town Council Meeting YouTube video
Merrillville Town Council members, firefighters and other town officials honor Ben's Blue Bags during the Apr. 26 council meeting.

Emergency situations can be especially stressful for those with autism spectrum disorder. For the past two-and-a-half years, a Northwest Indiana organization has been giving emergency responders resources and training to help those individuals remain calm during potentially traumatic events like fires or ambulance calls.

Crown Point fire Lieutenant Matt Kodicek started Ben's Blue Bags in honor of his son, who is on the autism spectrum. It provides "sensory stimulation bags" that police and firefighters can take with them to emergency scenes.

"It's a whole host of different items, and it's just to help them refocus, calm the situation down. And hopefully, if it deescalates it, it allows them that they don't need to be transported, and our ambulances can go back in service for a cardiac arrest or any other life-threatening stuff," Kodicek told the Merrillville Town Council Tuesday.

The bags include items like ear muffs, fidget spinners, and dry-erase boards that can help individuals who are non-verbal communicate with emergency personnel.

Kodicek said the effort began in Crown Point, before spreading to other neighboring fire departments. Now, he said, it's taking off all across the country.

Ben's Blue Bags was recognized during Tuesday's Merrillville Town Council meeting, with council members, police, firefighters and other town officials wearing blue shirts honoring the organization. Council members also approved a proclamation recognizing Ben's Blue Bags and Autism Awareness Month, and committing the town to continuing to equip all of its police and fire department vehicles with the bags.

Meanwhile, the Merrillville Police Department got some recognition of its own from a nonprofit that aims to prevent suicide and homelessness among veterans. Jason Zaideman with Operation Combat Bikesaver said a veteran who'd been struggling with mental health issues recently went missing, and the town's police officers stepped up to help.

"Long story short, we found the veteran. It felt like five minutes. It was so quick. The biggest thing that I want to hit on is the protocol and the selflessness and the attention to detail and the sense of urgency to find this veteran and to keep this veteran from making a wrong decision was just above and beyond," Zaideman told council members.

Zaideman presented the organization's Brotherhood Award to five officers and also recognized two EMS workers and two 911 dispatchers for their "outstanding emergency response to a veteran in crisis."

Screenshot From Merrillville Town Council Meeting YouTube Video
Merrillville police officers are honored for their potentially lifesaving efforts during the Apr. 26 town council meeting.