Concord fire says “Safe Station” program not realistic with present resources
By ALYSSA DANDREA
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Concord NH opioid epidemic
Concord fire officials say they don’t have the resources to be able to open the city’s four firehouses to people seeking addiction services the way Manchester has done in recent months.
Manchester’s new anti-drug initiative coined “Safe Station” launched in May, and its goal is to encourage addicts to seek treatment in an effort to avert overdoses. The city’s 10 firehouses are open around the clock and staffed to handle walk-ins who want to begin their recovery and access the program’s network of services.
While Manchester officials have expressed interest in having the program serve as a model for other communities, there are barriers to making that happen, including a lack of treatment centers and a need to train firefighters in these new practices.
Concord fire Chief Dan Andrus said if city residents have heard about “Safe Station” in Manchester, they need to know that a similar program has not been implemented in Concord. He said he is discouraging people in need of help to drop by the city’s four fire stations because there is no guarantee they’ll be staffed at any given time.
“Call 911 and we’ll come to you,” he said.
Concord fire handles about 8,000 calls annually, and about 20 of those in the past year were walk-ins, Andrus said. In the last 12 months, 18 of those calls were emergency-related and two were police matters, he said.
One of those two police calls occurred in recent weeks. A man who appeared disoriented showed up at a station and said that he was being chased, said Jim Duckworth, president of the Professional Firefighters of Concord. The man yelled about being followed and admitted to being high on methamphetamine. When police arrived and searched the man, they learned he had a kitchen knife.
“It put us in a bad situation because we don’t have a program set up right now,” Duckworth said. “We have one of two options: take this man to the hospital in an ambulance or call the police and have them transport.”
That was an atypical walk-in, as others who have stopped in are not in such an acute state, Andrus said. But, he said, that case did raise safety concerns, especially when the city’s stations don’t have secure lobbies.
“We see hundreds of overdoses and hundreds of alcohol abuse cases and psychiatric emergencies each year,” Andrus said.
He said that his firefighters are trained to handle those calls and do so regularly, but not at the doors to the city’s firehouses.
Andrus said Manchester has set the bar high by successfully implementing an anti-drug program that, so far, has achieved its goal. He said other communities are interested in following suit with similar community outreach programs, but the question is how to get it done.
Other initiatives taking off in Concord may lay the groundwork for a new substance abuse program, even it doesn’t include having people access recovery services at the fire station’s doors.
The Concord Fire Department has partnered with Riverbend Community Mental Health in an effort to provide more options for those in crisis, including out-of-hospital treatment when appropriate, officials said.
While the initiative is in its infancy, the goal is more specialized care for people who need community-based services but don’t know where to start, said David Hirsch, the medical director of emergency medical services at Concord Hospital and a trained EMT. Rather than simply transport people to the emergency room, firefighters are now trained to screen patients on a case-by-case basis and call on Riverbend’s clinicians to determine if a house call or next day visit is most appropriate, he said.
Concord firefighters say they’re eager to develop similar partnerships with substance abuse treatment providers, but they remain apprehensive about having public inquires start at the firehouse.
“When someone does want help, there’s a short window of time to get them that help,” Duckworth said. “It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to react quickly and get them started down that road.”
(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)