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Saskatoon Fire Department EMS calls outpacing city population growth

WATCH ABOVE: The far-reaching impact of addictions and mental health are affecting first responders in Saskatoon.

The Saskatoon Fire Department (SFD)’s calls for emergency medical service are increasing faster than the city’s population due in part to addictions and mental health issues, according to the department’s chief.

From 2015 to 2018, emergency medical calls climbed 25 per cent, Chief Morgan Hackl said. Meanwhile, the city’s population grew by six per cent during the same period.

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“Addictions and mental health is right in front of us and we’re seeing much more of that on the front lines,” Hackl said.

The SFD is among the organizations that declared a “drug-related health and safety crisis” in Saskatoon last month. From 2017 to 2019, the fire service reports tripling the amount of airway management and naloxone treatments used to combat drug overdoses.

The fire department has 140 paramedics who perform tasks like starting IVs, clearing airways and delivering CPR. CPR happens on a daily basis and is also on the rise, the chief said.

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Since 1998, fire crews have been regularly deployed to pick up discarded needles – also known as “sharps.” To date, there has been a 22 per cent increase from last year, and the SFD anticipates the figure could reach 30 per cent by the end of the year.

“It is concerning. In terms of our call volume, it does continue to rise, the sharps calls continue to rise,” Hackl said.

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Hackl said there are other issues at play like call locations and demographics, and the “full story” around call volumes isn’t yet known.

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) has seen a 2.9 per cent increase in calls compared to last year. Dispatched calls have increased every year since 2014.

On Wednesday, Saskatoon’s Board of Police Commissioners approved a request to add an additional eight police officers for a new supervised consumption site in the city’s Pleasant Hill neighbourhood.

Proponents consider the site an opportunity for harm reduction, while opponents in the area fear an increase in crime.

The city’s preliminary budget includes plans for an additional seven police officers for 2020 and 2021, bringing the proposed total to 15 officers.

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Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark told Global News on Thursday that it’s his goal for “every resident to feel that they live in a safe neighbourhood.”

“The nature of the crime, the addictions, the property crime and the record homicide rate that we’ve seen over the last several months is a trend that is not going in the right direction,” Clark said.

Saskatoon has reached its all-time high for homicides at 15.