A seat at the table: Fire Chief talks Safe Stations in D.C.

Courtesy photo Nashua Fire Chief Brian Rhodes participates in a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., as a Congressional task force prepares legislation to address the growing opioid epidemic across the nation.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nashua’s Fire Chief Brian Rhodes hadn’t seen anything like the opioid addiction epidemic when the number of deaths from overdose started to climb three years ago.

What happened next, though, is a testament to the people of Nashua and New Hampshire.

“This is the greatest collaboration I’ve seen in my community in 30 years,” Rhodes said Tuesday.

The newly sworn-in fire chief made the trip to Washington, D.C., to speak before the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, co-chaired by New Hampshire’s Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. The Task Force is getting ready to submit proposed legislation to Congress to address the opioid addiction epidemic that’s impacted the country, Kuster said. Her co-chair, Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, said it’s past time for action.

“We have to do something,” MacArthur said. “Yesterday, 174 people died from an overdose.”

Rhodes told Kuster and MacArthur about the success Nashua and Manchester have had since instituting Safe Station programs. He credited Manchester firefighter Chris Hickey for starting the program in Manchester, and American Medical Response’s Chris Stawasz for getting the program started in Nashua.

Under the Safe Stations protocol, anyone can go to any fire station in the city and get connected to recovery services within minutes. Working with Harbor Homes, the person seeking help is checked out by a paramedic in the fire station, and a Harbor Homes representative is dispatched to bring them to a recovery center. Harbor Homes averages an 11-minute response time. Thousands of people in Nashua and Manchester have been directed to recovery treatment since the programs started.

Rhodes said the people who seek help at fire stations always are greeted warmly.

“We treat them with respect and dignity,” he said. “We’re talking to them, not at them.”

Kuster said that shortly before Nashua and Manchester were setting up Safe Station programs, Medicaid was expanded to offer medical insurance. That meant that many of the people seeking help were eligible for the insurance under that program.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.