In response to the growing opioid epidemic sweeping the nation and the greater Norristown area, in particular, Fire Chief Thomas O’Donnell reached out to Plymouth Ambulance operations chief Thomas Trojansky to forge a partnership in which full-time, on duty firefighters, have been equipped with the life-saving drug and trained how to use it.
Narcan is a brand name for the drug Naloxone, which acts as a narcotic uptake inhibitor, blocking and thereby reversing the suppressive effects to the respiratory and central nervous system caused by drugs like heroin.
Part of the impetus for the program stemmed from an incident last year in which an opioid overdose victim was passed out in a vehicle in the middle of a street firefighters needed to pass in order to respond to a fire call.
Spearheaded by Assistant Fire Chief John Remillard, the program is fully funded by Plymouth Ambulance, whose medics also conducted the training.
“I think Norristown Fire has done a wonderful job trying to help the community,” Trojansky said. “Even though there’s people that don’t want to help themselves. Our job in public safety is to help them.”
Trojansky stressed that Narcan is not a “magical cure” and expressed concern that some people feel that since the antidote is widely available, they have a false sense of hope of surviving an overdose.
“The collateral damage is everybody thinks this drug is going to help them. It only helps them if they’re alive. It’s not going to bring anybody back from the dead,” Trojansky said, noting that despite Narcan’s widened availability “the exponential rise in deaths from overdoses is unprecedented.”
Although Narcan has proven effective at reducing opioid deaths, Trojansky warned that polypharmaceutical overdoses and synthetic narcotics like fentanyl — which is sometimes used to cut heroin — greatly reduce or negate its effectiveness.
“What makes Norristown firefighters unique in Montgomery County is we’re staffed 24 hours, seven days a week and we spend a tremendous amount of time out and about in the community,” said Remillard, adding that firefighters in the municipality “have a high percentage of encountering someone who may be experiencing an opioid overdose.”
“There could be a window of up to four minutes when firefighters are the only first responders on the scene,” Remillard said.
Some instances in which firefighters could be called on to administer Narcan include cooking incidents and vehicle crashes in which someone is incapacitated by opioids.
“We are the largest squad in the county, covering 15 to 16 thousand calls a year in over a 74 to 76 square mile area. In a day we average about two to three administrations of Narcan,” Trojansky said.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox to help combat this issue,” added O’Donnell. “This program would not be possible without Plymouth Ambulance and they’re funding and training.”
“Some communities don’t have what we have here, which is a great working relationship between the police, fire and EMS.”