In February, Edmonton firefighters began carrying naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdoses. This past summer, they were administering it almost every other day. In his year-end interview with Global News, fire chief Ken Block spoke about what’s next.
Naloxone and opioids
Global’s Kim Smith: This past year has been described as a turning point for Edmonton Fire Rescue Services when it comes to the opioid crisis. How have drug overdoses changed the way firefighters are doing their job?
Chief Ken Block: In February, we trained all of our operational firefighters in the delivery of naloxone, which are inter-muscular injections. So the scope of practice for firefighters had to be amended to allow that practice. It’s been very well received by our staff. Since late February, early March, to today (on Dec. 8), naloxone has been delivered 95 times by fire rescue members. Again, it’s yet one more tool in the toolbox of Edmonton Fire Rescue to improve our service to our citizens.
KS: Would you say that naloxone has been effective? Can we say that it is saving lives?
KB: As far as data goes, I have no data on that. Alberta Health Services analyzes that data. Anecdotally, naloxone is very effective. And there’s no doubt that many lives have been saved.
KS: Has it increased the workload for firefighters?
KB: In a typical year, 67 per cent plus of our workload is medical events. So we’re attending those events anyway. Any life-threatening medical event in Edmonton, fire rescue will respond. There about 34,000 of those a year that we actually attend.
KS: Do you see firefighters potentially taking this one step further and being able to administer other medications in the future?
KB: As fire chief in Edmonton, I’m absolutely open to that notion. The scope of practice would have to be reviewed. Certainly there are other treatments, such as epinephrine, so through an EpiPen injection for anaphylactic shock. There’s no reason that firefighters couldn’t be considered, just like we are with the naloxone injections and with the proper training, with diabetic shock and low blood sugar. Those types of incidents are a regular type of call.
Preparing for a major emergency
On Sept. 30, an Edmonton police officer was hit by a car and stabbed near Commonwealth Stadium. Four pedestrians were then struck by a U-Haul van during a police chase downtown. Abdulahi Hasan Sharif is facing five counts of attempted murder.
KS: How do you think your response to emergencies in 2018 will differ from this year?
KB: You watch the news, you’re seeing the idea of terrorist activities, civil unrest. Edmonton doesn’t exist on an island. We’re as vulnerable to events like that as other places in the world and we need to be prepared should they occur. So there’s a lot of attention being paid to our municipal emergency plan and our Office of Emergency Management actually is under Fire Rescue Services. We’re really increasing the interaction, not only with internal partners within the city, but also external stakeholders like the RCMP, like Alberta Health Services, to ensure the best emergency planning measures are in place.
KS: Is this in response to the U-Haul attack here in Edmonton?
KB: That certainly has contributed to it, however, I must say that we’ve been talking about this now for a couple of years. I have the privilege of being engaged internationally and typically, I find Canada is about five years behind what occurs in the U.S. We’re a part of this whole global shift. I think we can expect what’s been occurring for the last number of years in the U.S. to start to be reflected here at home.