Key West Police and Fire Department kicked off National Autism Awareness Month with a colorful rally raising awareness of all things: blue badges, puzzle patches, race cars and even awareness horse blankets to autism.

The departments are proud to support the Autism Society of the Keys (ASK) to help advocate, educate and support their mission to help families affected by autism.

The Key West Fire Department also wears specially designed blue shirts with the fire department emblem on the back combined with the Autism Puzzle Piece logo.

It’s essential that first responders know how to work well with people with autism in order to provide the highest level of care, said Fire Chief Alan Averette.

“Probably everyone in this town has a loved one or knows someone who has a loved one with this disease,” he added. “It’s important that we as firefighters and rescuers know the best way to read a situation and provide the best response.”

April is Autism Awareness Month, and it’s part of both departments’ ongoing efforts to support members of the community with special needs.

The community can help support ASK by purchasing KWPD Autism Awareness Patches and Challenge Coins. Hope Haley, wife of Lt. Matt Haley, is leading this campaign. Patches and parts are available on eBay.

The Key West Fire Department wears blue all month long to mark Autism Awareness Month. The blue shirts feature a KWFD emblem on the back made up of colorful puzzle pieces that have come to represent autism awareness. CONTRIBUTED