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New West firefighters aim to save lives with new Second Responder program

New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services is teaming up with Fraser Health to try and reduce deaths from toxic drugs.
New Westminster firefighters are taking part in the new Second Responder program starting in March 2024.

New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services is hoping to save lives by shifting from a respond-and-resuscitate function to overdose prevention as part of the new Second Responder program.

The City of New Westminster has entered into an agreement with the Fraser Health Authority related to the introduction of a Second Responder program – a program that hopes to reduce the risk of future drug overdoses and death.

“We traditionally are a respond-and-resuscitate service but the firefighters are excited to partner with Fraser Health to transition to a proactive role to save lives, prevent toxic drug events and offer opportunities that could create positive change to some people’s lives,” said Deputy Fire Chief Brad Davie.

In this new program, New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services’ personnel will identify people who are at risk of future toxic drug overdoses. They’ll phone those individuals to get their consent to meet with them and then, accompanied by Fraser Health staff, meet with those folks to provide education, harm-reduction materials and/or supporting services.

Davie noted the toxic drug crisis claimed more than 2,500 lives in B.C. last year. 

“New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services responded to 700 toxic drug events in 2023, and 38 people lost their lives due to a toxic drug event in New Westminster last year,” he told the Record. “Firefighters hope to build connections with people so the program can offer people-centric, compassionate, respectful and discrete education, supports and services to those who consent and participate.”

According to Davie, Surrey Fire Service has offered a similar service for a number of years, and other fire departments are exploring the idea of offering a similar service in their communities.

New Westminster’s Second Responder program is set to launch the week of March 18.

The city’s hope is that the program will: reduce the risk of future toxic drug overdoses; reduce the risk of death in the event of a toxic drug overdose; and reduce the demand for service from fire, police, BC Emergency Health Services, and emergency departments.

After responding to calls where they resuscitate an individual experiencing a toxic drug overdose, firefighters will ask the person if they can provide a follow-up call in a few days.

“A firefighter will phone the individual to offer a discrete, respectful and people-centric meeting between the individual, the firefighter and FHA staff,” said a March 11 report to city council. “If consent is provided, the meeting will be scheduled. At the meeting FHA staff will offer appropriate education, supports and/or services to reduce the likelihood or harm of a future toxic drug overdose.”

New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services will collect anonymized statistics to evaluate the program.

“No personal stories or personalized information will be used for this,” stated the report. “The program will be evaluated after the first and third months of operation, and then annually. The evaluation will assess its acceptance by the individuals engaged and the services provided.”