Maple Ridge firefighters on front lines of overdoses

Seven calls in two days for Maple Ridge department.

Capt. Robert Ramsay of the Maple Ridge Fire Department holds a dose of Narcan from a kit at Fire Hall No. 1.

Their main job is putting out fires, but increasingly firefighters are responding to opiate-related overdoses as the scourge of fentanyl sweeps across Canada.

In the past 18 months, the number of suspected overdoses that firefighters respond to has grown to about 30 a month.

“We’re able to handle it. We have three companies that can respond to it,” said assistant Maple Ridge fire chief Mark Smitton.

Maple Ridge firefighters, earlier this year, were all trained on administering Narcan, or naxolone to counteract opioid-related overdoses.

Opioids can produce euphoria, but are also depressants, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which means that they slow down the part of the brain that controls breathing, to point where breathing stops.

While Vancouver and Delta cope with recent waves of overdoses, Maple Ridge had its own spike in numbers at the start of the week.

On Monday, Maple Ridge firefighters responded to four suspected overdoses, followed by another three on Tuesday.

For most of those calls, the patient was revived by B.C. Ambulance crews. But on Tuesday night, firefighters administered Narcan at an overdose in the area of 222nd Street. It’s only the third time fire crews have used the antidote since being equipped with it in May.

Smitton said in the past two months firefighters responded to only two overdoses at the temporary homeless shelter on Lougheed Highway in the downtown.

“We’re not having the ODs in the shelter,” Smitton said. “The hard part is the people who are there are not necessarily the ones having the ODs. It’s other people around the area.”

Smitton said overdoses can’t all be linked to the shelter, which now has 40 people staying in it.

“And there are many others who are homeless out there,” he added.

“Generally, Maple Ridge, as a whole, has a problem. It’s hitting all the families in one way or the other. It’s not just the homeless people having the problem. It’s a societal thing.”

Smitton has noticed an increase in calls for suspected overdoses since the beginning summer 2015.

“August was the first time we were below 25.”

In April 2016, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and Health Minister Terry Lake declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid overdose crisis. Since then, more information on overdose events has helped the health system and other partners identify what strategies will be most effective in preventing and responding to opioid overdoses.

Narcan kits have now been widely distributed, and Fraser Health is considering supervised consumption sites, including one for Maple Ridge.

Smitton estimated that half the total number of overdoses the department gets called to are in the downtown area. But more calls originate from the downtown because more people are living there.

Smitton said that fire crews respond to overdoses across the city.

Maple Ridge fire chief Howard Exner said it’s important to note that it can’t be said conclusively that all overdoses are caused by fentanyl.

“We’ve seen people come back … from a whole bunch of different things.”

He said the increase in calls to suspected overdoses has added to the department’s response totals.

“It’s not like drug use has increased. The issue is the toxicity of the drugs has increased,” probably as a result of fentanyl, he said.

Ridge Meadows RCMP are also being trained in administering Narcan, but will use the nasal spray instead of the Epipen type injector.

Officers will soon be equipped with such kits to counter act effects of fentanyl on individuals or even police officers who could become exposed simply by skin contact.

Delta police hosted Fentanyl Forums this week after attending to nine overdoses of what is believed to be fentanyl-tainted drugs in a 20-minute period on Sept. 1.

RCMP also say the drug is taking more police time, particularly for the general duty officers.

“Police can’t conclusively say that every drug on the street contains fentanyl, but most of our analyzed drug seizures, where police believe the drug is an opiate, has contained at least traces of fentanyl,” said  Supt. Dave Fleugel.

He said that hard-core addicts probably know that fentanyl has been laced with whatever drug they’re using. Casual users however may not know that.

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

Maple Ridge celebrates new Ale Trail

Tapping into tourists who love craft beer

Super 30 story’s inspirational teacher, author attend screening

Indian mathematician Anand Kumar and Dr. Bijou Matthew in Maple Ridge

Influx of donors for Battle of the Bravest Blood Drive

Maple Ridge event supports five-year-old Paisley, who has leukemia

Dickson leads Canada to win at world lacrosse championships

Burrards prominant in tournament in Langley

Hammond Cedar workers can access retraining funds

Maple Ridge mill workers to be laid off by end of October

VIDEO: Grizzly bears fight along northern B.C. highway in rare footage

Cari McGillivray posted the head-turning video, shot near Stewart, B.C., to social media

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

B.C. woman photographs massive ant swarm on Abbotsford driveway

She asked what the ants were doing? The answer: war

Westbound crash on Highway 1 in Langley causing extreme traffic delays

Collision occured just after Glover Road, cars backed up all the way to 264th Street

Police arrest B.C. phone scammer linked to illegal call centres in India

Person arrested in Burnaby here on a work visa, says police

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

Man from Winnipeg who was hiking alone found dead in Banff National Park

RCMP say the man was hiking alone on Mount Temple Thursday

Takaya, B.C.’s intriguing lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Most Read