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3,000th person served by Manchester's Safe Station

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 17. 2018 11:40PM
Manchester EMS Officer Chris Hickey started the Safe Station program. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

Reader Poll

  • Safe Stations: Is providing a refuge for drug abusers at fire stations a worthwhile municipal service?
  • Yes
  • 46%
  • No
  • 49%
  • Ambivalent
  • 5%
  • Total Votes: 1653





MANCHESTER — On May 4, 2016, Manchester’s Safe Station initiative welcomed its first client. At 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, the 3,000th person to seek help under the program walked into the city’s Central Fire Station.

“I never thought it would reach that many people that quickly,” said Christopher Hickey, Manchester’s emergency medical services officer and the man who drafted the initial proposal for Safe Station. “A lot of people are being helped, but the number also speaks to the depth of the crisis. Three thousand visits — it’s a positive, with a negative silver lining.”

The basic premise of Safe Station is a simple one — an open door. If someone walks into any Manchester fire station seeking help, they get it.

When someone walks in, first responders check to make sure the person’s vital signs are OK. If the person is at risk for a medical emergency, they are sent to a local hospital or given the necessary care. If they are determined to be stable, fire personnel connect them with recovery and support services.

Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan, who helped launch Safe Station shortly after taking the reins of the state’s largest fire department in 2016, said reaching the 3,000th client threshold is a significant milestone for the program.

“I think it shows the level of commitment this department and this city has to helping those affected by this crisis,” said Goonan. “It’s an ongoing struggle, but we are doing what we can with what he have.”

“I’m not surprised we’ve hit the 3,000 mark, but it’s a somber moment,” said Chris Stawasz, regional director for American Medical Response. “I think it points to the true depth of the crisis in this city, in this state.”

Final figures for 2017 regarding the drug epidemic in the Queen City show overdoses up but fatalities down.

There were 66 fatal overdoses, a 27 percent decline from the 90 the state’s largest city had last year. Overdoses continued an upward trend with the number of incidents climbing 12 percent, with 881 in 2017 compared to 785 incidents in 2016.

According to the Manchester Fire Department there were 2,942 who sought help from Safe Station in 2017, with about a third of those, 933, being repeat visits from someone who had been there before. There were 633 who had to be brought to the hospital for treatment after going to Safe Station.

“Manchester has been hit incredibly hard by the opioid crisis,” said Mayor Joyce Craig in a statement. “But, thanks to our Fire Department and partners across the city, people seeking help for addition are receiving care. I’m grateful for their hard work and dedication to support Safe Station.”

Other communities in New Hampshire — including Nashua and Rochester — have launched their own versions of Safe Station, looking to piggyback on the success of Manchester’s program. Providence, Rhode Island also debuted a version of the program earlier this month.

“Not every department has the support and the means to replicate what we have in Manchester, but it can be tailored to fit individual communities,” said Stawasz. “I’m scheduled to give a presentation on it to the International Association of Fire Chiefs on it in June.”

“If I am training somewhere, it doesn’t take long for someone to recognize the name — and then the questions start,” said Hickey. 

“There’s a lot of interest in what we’re doing here.”

pfeely@unionleader.com


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