British Columbia

Rural B.C. firefighters receive naloxone training

Firefighters at more than two dozen volunteer departments in B.C. have now been trained to administer naloxone.

Overdoses not just an urban issue, some volunteer fire departments say

The opioid antidote naloxone can save lives during overdoses. (Stefan Labbe/ CBC)

Firefighters at more than two dozen volunteer departments in B.C. have now been trained to administer naloxone.

Injecting the drug can help reverse the effects of an overdose caused by fentanyl or other opioids. Thousands of professional firefighters in communities hit hard by the opiod crisis, like Vancouver and Surrey, have received training on how to administer the drug.

But firefighters in rural areas are also often first to the scene for medical calls, prompting some volunteer departments to ask for the training too, said Dr. William Dick, vice-president of medical programs for B.C. Emergency Health Services.

"It could be lifesaving, obviously, in those cases where there are great geographic distances to cover and it takes us time to get there," Dick said.

The majority of drug overdoses happen in urban centres, but rural areas are not immune, said Nick Acciavatti, the fire chief for the Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department, which serves a rural area on Vancouver Island.

"We've waited upwards of 45 minutes for an ambulance here to respond to a call," Acciavatti said. 

"So, for us to be able to get on the road quickly, which we can, and deliver the drug quickly, it could mean somebody's life."

The Dashwood department plans to add a naloxone kit to each of the vehicles in its fleet.

27 volunteer departments trained

Dashwood is among 27 volunteer departments in B.C. that have now received training on responding to overdoses, which includes how to administer naloxone.

More departments will be trained if they put in a request, Dick said.

"They are being called out from home usually to do this work and they could save a life using this drug and the training they have received," he said.

A physician from B.C. Emergency Health Services is also available by phone 24 hours a day to provide support during calls that involve an overdose, Dick added.

Many police forces have also been equipping members with naloxone, and B.C. health authorities have been distributing take-home naloxone kits for citizens to use as the opioid crisis continues.

The latest provincial numbers on overdose deaths are expected later this week, but health officials have already indicated they are anticipated to remain grim.

According to data released by the BC Coroners Service in November, 622 people have died from overdoses since the beginning of the year, compared to 397 over the same time last year.

B.C. declared a public health emergency in April due to the alarming rise in the number of drug-related deaths.