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Fort St. John Fire Department taking steps to protect firefighters from accidental drug inhalation

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – With much of B.C. suffering from a health crisis due to illicit drug overdoses, the Fort St. John Fire Department is making sure their members are protected when it comes to responding to calls involving overdoses and drug use.

Fire Chief Fred Burrows said in a letter to Fort St. John City Council that although it is not a WorkSafe regulation, they decided that it would be in the best interest for firefighters.

“With these synthetic opioids and the ability to manufacture pills in any location, whether it is a fixed location or mobile, we believe there is a possibility of an exposure risk to our fire fighters. Therefore, to assist in managing the exposure risk, the City of Fort St. John Fire Department is engaged in the training to administer naloxone. This protocol is not identified in WorkSafe regulations but, as the employer, we are taking necessary precautions along with having the appropriate procedures in place to reduce the risk of exposure which will help prevent an accidental overdose to fire fighters. Should such an event occur, we are ensuring that we are prepared and can intervene with necessary medical procedures within our First Responder Licence to ensure the best possible outcome.”

Burrows says that the training has been provided to Fire Department’s ‘In House Trainers’, by a regional training officer from BC Ambulance.

“We know that there has been at least two pill presses in our region. There is not only the risk of going to a residence where they are pressing pills, there is also the risk of responding to a motor vehicle accident with these products being transported. The dust created by fentanyl when it is in the pill form, if there is enough of it, it can create a health risk.”

Burrows says they are starting to see move overdoses in public places, something that isn’t what people may think.

“We’re finding more overdoses in vehicles, in Walmart parking lots, in Safeway, the skateboard park. It’s not a residential or a party thing. People take these drugs anywhere.”

He says that his members will continue to do ‘rescue breathing’ but they are only allowed to administer a certain amount of Nalaxone in the case of a overdose.

“We are only allowed to administer two vials of  Narcan to a fentanyl overdose. That is all we are allowed to by the rules that we abide by. If we have someone that has taken a significant amount, then we may not be successful in the Narcan part. If you are giving Narcan, if it is going to be successful in the first 4 or 5 minutes, in many cases we have been doing CPR and Narcan has been administered by BC Ambulance after they get there and they hop up, literally hop up so if it is successful, we will see that result and if we’re not, then we will continue to rescue breathe for these patients until they can get a higher level of medical care.”

Burrows says that they have yet to administer Naloxone in public.

“We go (to calls involving over doses) but we just rescue breathe until the ambulance becomes available and they are the ones that administer Narcan when they get there.”

The fire chief explained at a City Council meeting that administering Narcan hasn’t left the Fire Department’s building but said that it is something they can now do, as long as everyone has the training that is required to administrate it.


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