A fire station in Tacoma will now double as a safe place for those seeking treatment for opioid addiction.
Fire Station 1, at 901 Fawcett Ave. downtown, is the first in the state to become a “Safe Station.”
“An open door to recovery,” Deputy Mayor Conor McCarthy called it at a Wednesday news conference. “Safe Stations is a safe place where you or your loved one can go to get treatment. And most importantly, it’s a stigma-free, no-barrier entry point for immediate treatment.”
The program is in place in 39 cities across the nation.
People can walk in to the station and an initial assessment will determine whether they need to be transferred to a hospital for emergency treatment. If not, they’ll be taken to a nearby medical clinic for assessment, medicine and ongoing support.
“You don’t need to wait for an appointment. You don’t need to wait for a car ride or transportation. You don’t need to wait for Medicaid to figure out if they’re going to fund you — you simply show up, ask for help and get treatment right away,” McCarthy said.
Station 1 was chosen for its proximity to a number of calls related to opioids.
Last year, the Tacoma Fire Department responded to 1,500 calls related to opioid use, abuse and overdose, and administered the drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, more than 400 times.
First responders often see the results of the opioid crisis up close, said Tacoma Fire Chief Tory Green.
“We’re the first to be called,” Green said. “We are most frequently on the scene when those events occur, so it’s critical for us to be at the forefront of some of the solutions, and Safe Stations are intended to do just that.”
Green added there’s no cost to the department to start a Safe Station, just a “change in practice.”
Safe Stations is part of TFD CARES, the department’s nonemergency medical services. CARES stands for Community, Assistance, Referral, and Education Service.
Last month, the department launched a mobile CARES unit that responds to nonemergency calls, some related to opioid use. The unit has served nearly 100 people. It was paid for with a two-year, $1 million grant.
Officials hope to expand the program to other stations in the future.
“We are going to treat your request for help with the exact same urgency as a 911 call,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “We know there is a very short window between that time an individual asks for help and the time where we lost that individual to further addiction or worst case, fatality.”