Ottawa Fire Services is preparing to train nearly 1,500 volunteer and career firefighters to use the life-saving opioid antidote Naloxone, as the fentanyl crisis continues to take lives across the country.
Over the past six months, Ottawa has seen an increase in opioid-related overdoses and parents across the city have begun arming themselves with Naloxone kits following the death of 14-year-old Chloe Kotval.
"It's a big step forward," said Peter Kennedy, the president of the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters Association, who says firefighters need to be "part of the solution."
Right now, paramedics are the only first responders in Ottawa who have access to the drug, but Kennedy says it's fairly common for firefighters to get to the scene of a medical emergency first.
"Firefighters can get to the scene so quickly, that that four to eight minutes might make a huge difference in somebody else's life."
Ottawa's fire chief says the plan to outfit firefighters with Naloxone has been months in the making and is set to cost his department upwards of $12,000.
Alberta, B.C. firefighters already using Naloxone
Ottawa is not the first city to take this step.
In Vancouver, Canada's ground zero for the opioid crisis, firefighters have been administering Naloxone since January 2016. Calgary's fire chief says that city's firefighters have been using Naloxone daily since it received the kits in mid-December.
"I think it's important for all first responders to have Naloxone," said Cory Mainprize, deputy chief of operations and training at Barrie's fire department — the first Ontario community to give firefighters the kits.
"Anyone who's going to be responding to these types of emergencies, if there's an avenue to mitigate and increase public safety, I think we'd be remiss not to take it."
It's been nearly a month since Barrie finished training firefighters to use the drug, but, so far, they haven't had a reason to use it.
'It could be every day'
Kennedy doubts it will take that long to use the kits in Ottawa. In fact, he thinks it could be administered daily.
"Speaking with one of our members yesterday, they had had four calls in a single day where there were signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose," he said.
"That doesn't necessarily mean that they've gotten to the point where they're not going to survive without intervention. But certainly the intervention was very close to being life-saving."
Budget already hits $12K
Ottawa Fire Chief Gerry Pingitore says emergency responders have been working on this issue for months and the decision was fully supported by paramedics.
In the past, any move by firefighters to get medical training on par with paramedics has been a political landmine, with paramedics moving to protect their duties.
"We want to work together very closely and deliver the best service that we can," said Pingitore.
The cost of the Naloxone kits will come from the fire department's own budget, with the first purchase ringing in at $12,000, he said. "If, in the future, the province turns around and helps us to offset the costs, it'll be great."
Once the Naloxone kits arrive, it will likely take a few weeks to ensure all of the city's firefighters are trained, said Pingitore.