Northfield EMS chief awarded for support of Start ’Em Early Foundation

  • Erik Davidson, a paramedic and public education coordinator for Northfield EMS, presents Chief Mark Fortier with a plaque commending him for his support of the Start ’Em Early Foundation during a ceremony at the EMS station in Northfield on Tuesday afternoon. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Northfield EMS Chief Mark Fortier was presented with a plaque thanking him for his support of the Start ’Em Early Foundation on Tuesday. Given the nonprofit’s involvement in increasing autism awareness, the plaque features the autism awareness ribbon. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/24/2020 1:48:47 PM

NORTHFIELD — EMS Chief Mark Fortier was recognized Tuesday for his early support of the Start ’Em Early Foundation, a locally born nonprofit dedicated to promoting autism awareness and basic first responder training.

Erik Davidson, a Northfield EMS paramedic who launched the Start ’Em Early Foundation with his wife, Jo-Ann, presented Fortier with a plaque in appreciation of his support.

“This foundation wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if this guy had not backed me a year ago,” Davidson said of Fortier. “There were three chiefs that backed me — he was the first one. He got behind me right away, let me run it out of his operation and do everything that I’ve been doing with this foundation.”

Fortier appointed Davidson as the Northfield EMS public education coordinator earlier this year, and Davidson said this helped him to further the nonprofit’s reach. He has attended multiple public events teaching the basics of first responder service, including CPR and emergency first aid.

A key part of the Start ’Em Early Foundation’s work has been the creation and distribution of “sensory sacks,” which contain items meant to calm a person with autism who may be overwhelmed by an emergency situation. Since the nonprofit’s launch last winter, the Start ’Em Early Foundation has distributed 63 sensory sacks to 24 police, fire and EMS departments across Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, with Northfield EMS being the first department to receive them.

“The community support has been incredible,” Davidson said.

Given the nonprofit’s involvement in increasing autism awareness, the plaque awarded to Fortier featured the autism awareness ribbon, designed with a puzzle pattern of different colors that represents the diversity of the people living with the condition and the complexity of the autism spectrum.

“I think the autism population is one of the populations we just don’t have the pre-hospital education for, or the tools that are necessary,” Fortier explained. “I think it’s a piece of education that’s lacking in pre-hospital studies. This is a good initiative. … I look forward to future successes with these guys.”

Davidson also announced Tuesday that his nonprofit is partnering with Primum Non Nocere Foundation Inc., a national foundation that assists EMS departments with payments and supply purchases. Davidson said the national group would provide supplies and customized bags to the Start ’Em Early Foundation to make more sensory sacks.

A third part of the foundation’s efforts are focused on early intervention programs that help children who have been victims of abuse or who have developmental disabilities. For example, Davidson plans to conduct a drive to collect sensory items for an outdoor learning area that Fort Meadow Early Childhood Center in Westfield intends to build in the fall.

“We’re going to use our connections and everything like that to support that school,” he said. “All my kids went there, and it’s one of the best early intervention schools I’ve ever dealt with.”

To learn more about the Start ’Em Early Foundation, visit

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.


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