WITH THE SERVICES provided by the Safe Station program moving to the Doorway of Greater Manchester, aldermen heard a presentation last week on the fire department’s mobile support services team, dubbed “The Squad.”

According to Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Cashin, the origin of Squad 1 traces back to 2014, when Manchester saw a flood of synthetic marijuana-based substances known as “Spice” hit the streets, which caused a drain on available services. That rolled into an even larger (and still current) problem of opiates and opioid variants.

City Hall

Manchester launched the “Safe Station” program, offering a judgment- and stigma-free way for people suffering from substance use disorder to get access to treatment programs. More than 8,000 people have come through the doors of the Manchester Fire Department since 2016 as part of Safe Station.

Cashin said the Safe Station program is transitioning from a “brick and mortar” version to this new, more mobile version.

When it was first conceived in 2019, the idea behind Squad 1 was to assist the Manchester Fire and American Medical Response with low-acuity medical calls for service. Low-acuity calls are those that do not qualify as Basic Life Support or Advanced Life Support incidents, such as sprains, the flu, a cut requiring stitches, stomach cramps, etc.

“The Squad” would also help with public education and demonstrations, assist with quarterly school drills and inspections, and be “the face of the Fire Department” on the streets of downtown, according to Cashin.

“Then in late 2019 COVID hit and the plans were adjusted,” Cashin said. “The immediate need was to reconnect the homeless with services after the homeless shelter was hit hard with COVID.”

Through a partnership with the Community Outreach teams from Families in Transition and Greater Manchester Mental Health Center, the homeless encampments around the city were quickly identified and services were coordinated to ensure that “even though they were displaced from the shelter they still received the substance abuse and mental health help they needed,” Cashin said.

“Problems were identified, obstacles removed, and a safe living environment was monitored by daily interactions and building of trust by the members of these organizations,” Cashin said.

Now the Squad has a different mission. Five days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Squad 1 provides outreach service support, emergency medical assistance, fire scene support and community education.

The Squad has become the busiest unit in the city, averaging seven calls for service during their six-hour shift, Cashin said.

The program is funded by the state through the current fiscal year, Fire Chief Andre Parent said. City officials will look at ways to come up with the projected $225,000 a year in city funds as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

Reducing sewage discharge

City aldermen approved a $55 million bond resolution last week to pay for projects to reduce discharges of raw sewage into the Merrimack River.

Manchester will spend $231 million over the next 20 years to significantly reduce the discharges, known as combined sewer overflows , according to the terms of an agreement announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department last year.

The mandated upgrades to the city’s 385-mile network of sewer lines should reduce overflow discharges by 74%, according to the agreement, which resolves allegations of Clean Water Act violations by the city of Manchester.

“This agreement means a healthier Merrimack River and cleaner water for the communities along the river in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel in a statement.

Manchester alone accounts for about half of all combined sewer overflows in the Merrimack River, according to the EPA.

The 117-mile-long Merrimack River forms in Franklin and flows through Concord, Manchester and Nashua, then crosses the state line and into the cities of Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill, Mass., before meeting the Atlantic Ocean in Newburyport. The river is the source of drinking water for more than 500,000 people.

Combined sewer overflows happen during heavy rainfalls, when storm water overwhelms the capacity of antiquated sewage systems to handle both storm water and sewage water.

When overwhelmed, the systems discharge raw sewage directly into the river. The EPA estimates that the overflows amount to 280 million gallons a year.

At times, bacterial contamination of overflows was five times the allowable level. A little less than half of Manchester’s sewage lines, 45%, are combined with stormwater drains.

In 1999, the EPA issued an administrative order to Manchester to address the discharges.

The agreement calls for separating storm water sewers from sanitary sewers, a massive undertaking involving digging up streets and replacing single pipe structures with two separated sewage systems.

In 2009, Manchester completed a $58 million Phase I project that covered the West Side.

Halloween at City Hall

Mayor Joyce Craig announced the fourth annual “Halloween at City Hall” will take place Friday, Oct. 29, from 3-5 p.m. Similar to last year, the event will also include “Downtown Trick-or-Treat,” with trick-or-treaters encouraged to visit downtown participating businesses for a Halloween treat.

For two hours, students, parents and children are invited to come downtown and get a free book from the Bookmobile, meet the mayor and grab Halloween treats from participating downtown businesses.

Halloween at City Hall will take place outside in City Hall Plaza. Trick-or-Treating is scheduled in the city for Sunday, Oct. 31 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Organizations interested in participating in Downtown Trick-or-Treat should contact the mayor’s office at 603-624-6500 or email mayor@manchesternh.gov.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.