Stunning increase in overdose calls fraying mental health of Nanaimo firefighters

By Ian Holmes
April 27, 2018 - 3:28pm

Overdose calls are regularly responded to by Nanaimo Fire Rescue members.File photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief Karen Fry.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — Overdose calls are having a mounting impact on Nanaimo Fire Rescue members who will undergo training to better protect their mental health from trauma caused by the crisis.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief Karen Fry said they responded to a record 461 overdose calls last year, 72 per cent of them reported in the downtown area. She said their members are increasingly taxed mentally by the often disturbing incidents.

“We're getting a lot of burnout from firefighters, they're going to the same individuals sometimes in the same day, if not the same week,” Fry said. “There is resiliency training that we will be completing with our fire department this summer, it's going to help build that.”

Fry said resiliency training for more than 100 NFR members will be completed by this summer, consisting of courses led by trained in-house members. She said the sessions can't happen soon enough, as their firefighters are dealing with "a lot of mental health issues" from the crisis which is impacting all areas of the city. 

Fry said the multi-partner initiative includes the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Professional Firefighters and WorkSafeBC, who helped build the highly-regarded resiliency program. She said a focal point of the program involves their members opening up about their feelings and communicating how the overdose crisis affects them personally.

“Having some tools and strategies on dealing with multiple high-stress incidents immediately and being able to do them instead of boxing them up or masking them.”

Fry said their members used overdose reversing naloxone kits 39 times last year and on 19 occasions so far this year. She said they are considering moving firefighters to different halls to help combat the burnout effect some members have from overdoses.

BC Emergency Health Services data supplied to NanaimoNewsNOW showed ambulance paramedics locally responded to 651 overdose/poisoning calls in Nanaimo last year, up from 512 in 2016 and 288 three years ago.

The province announced in January the number of full-time ambulance paramedics in Nanaimo was being doubled to 48.

BC Coroners Service data showed 51 people died from illicit drug overdoses in Nanaimo in 2017.


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