By Bob Groeneveld/Langley Advance Times
Firefighters are often the first responders when an overdose is reported, and the stress of those encounters is a heavy burden.
Year-end figures from the BC Coroner’s office put the 2018 drug overdose death toll at 29 in Langley alone.
“Most of those will be in Langley City” said Russ Jenkins, Deputy Fire Chief for the Township of Langley, adding, “We do deal with it quite a bit.”
It’s of little comfort that the numbers are worse in Abbotsford (40) and Chilliwack (35).
Not all of the calls for assistance from fire departments result in fatalities, Jenkins pointed out, but they’re all difficult to deal with emotionally.
“It’s not exactly uplifting,” Jenkins said, “but when you can do something this time, it does make our responders feel a bit better.”
That’s tempered with the realization that “this time” is often not the first overdose for the person they’re helping.
“And it’s probably not their last,” said Jenkins. “You’re just here to help them get through this situation.”
Firefighters can now carry naloxone nasal spray, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose.
But that’s really just a kind of first aid measure to keep overdose victims going until they can receive further medical attention.
There’s no tracking for first responders to know what has happened to someone after they’ve done their part, so they don’t always know what happens to the people after they’ve done what they can.
“There are times when they don’t know,” said Jenkins.
And that does little to alleviate the stress.
“They’re responding to people from all walks of life,” he said. “Lots of times they’re people you wouldn’t expect to be using those types of substances. We can be called to basement suites or big homes.”
“You feel empathy for the people in this position.”
It all adds stress to responders who also deal with traffic accidents and fires and other emergencies that can bring them in direct contact with fatalities.