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Firefighters vs. Autism


Turns out people like seeing pictures of half naked firefighters, throw in a good cause and people get really excited!

Justin Lewis, our crisis management expert, and author of Firefighter Self Rescue, recently started a non-profit that fights to prevent autism-related wandering incidents and deaths.


Wandering-When a person, who requires some level of supervision to be safe, leaves a supervised, safe space and/or the care of a responsible person and is exposed to potential dangers such as traffic, open water (drowning), falling from a high place, weather (hypothermia, heat stroke, dehydration) or unintended encounters with potentially predatory strangers.

As a firefighter, that information made Justin very uncomfortable. As a father of a child with autism, that information made Justin sick.
“It is physically and mentally draining to raise a child who is prone to wondering off from a safe environment and attracted to a potentially dangerous one, you always have to be dialed in, I had to do something…Hence, Firefighters vs. Autism.” Justin recently explained.


Well, what Justin did was recruit one of the most talented and creative photographers in all of Southern Arizona, Jason Lee Nolan, called a bunch of his fellow firefighters from numerous departments, and connected with families touched by autism, then shared his vision with them all.

His goal from the beginning has been to;

1. Train Emergency Responders how to best serve the Autistic community and children with special needs.
2. Sponsor Survival Swim Lessons for families touched by autism that are unable to afford them.
3. Raise awareness to prevent autism-related wandering incidents and deaths.


Social Entrepreneurship

To make a significant impact, Justin knew that it was going to take plenty of cash, community support, and sweat equity. Now, filing for non-profit status is no joke, he found that out when numerous lawyers he was referred to failed to return his calls. Another wonderful lesson he learned is that you cannot please everyone. The name of his organization seems to attract some raving fans as well as draw out plenty of critics. “Why does it have to be Firefighters VERSUS Autism, like it is a battle?” is a question he fields regularly.

Justin’s approach to solving problems in the marketplace is a perfect example of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurs identify and solve social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others overlook in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.

Our mission at GAP is to inspire leadership and creativity in a manner that drives innovation, not only through our trainings and presentations but through our actions as well. Firefighters vs. Autism is a perfect example of the process of innovation.

Empathy->Perspective-Taking->Creative Process->Leadership=Innovative Solutions.

“Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They view the villagers as the solution, not the passive beneficiary. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they’re serving.” states David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

For those of you who may be in the midst of solving some complex problems or itching to influence society, I would like to share my 3 biggest take-a-ways from Justin’s journey.

1. Be The Message-Make sure your mission is congruent with the person you are designed to be. It will get tough, you are entering uncharted territory. The road map to success is know where you want to go but be prepared to take detours along the way. Changing people’s behavior is crazy tough and capturing their attention can be a frustrating process, if you are not deeply connected to the purpose behind your initiative, it will fail.

2. Go Where You Are Celebrated, Not Where You Are Tolerated-If your message does not speak to a specific audience, nobody will listen. People want to be a part of a community, communities are built from familiarity. Be specific, start small and build momentum. Most organizations jump over warm leads to get to cold ones. Focus on serving the early adopters, then empower them to help recruit supporters.

If you want to change the world…act consciously. Be authentic, but temper it with compassion.

3. People Care More About Your “WHY” Than Your “WHAT”-Everybody is competing for attention, there is so much noise in the marketplace, your message must be clear. Most people will not remember what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel. The more you can get people to feel and connect with your purpose, the easier it is for them to tell your story.

The Campaign
Justin has done a really great job at launching his indiegogo project. Through an active Facebook community, and by leaking teaser photos of some of the most jacked firefighters in Southern Arizona, he raised over 4k in less than a week. Now to have the impact he desires, he will need to raise 10x that amount, but he is well on his way and taking the first few steps are always the most difficult.

There are so many problems in the world but doing nothing is like waiving a big white flag. I have a deep admiration for Justin and the investment he is making into our community. Think big, start small, then you can grow them all.

Eric Thompson is the owner of Global Ascension Productions and founder of The Brilliance Project.  Eric has developed a plan that helps people to synergize their inner virtues, allowing them to discover and fully utilize the hidden strengths that so many people never use – their Brilliance.

For more information about Eric visit him at

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