Firefighters say that when the call is not an acute emergency but instead someone dealing with drug addiction or mental illness there is little they can do.
“In my 20 years I've gone through a range of emotions from anger to hopelessness about the patients I'm trying to take care of,” said firefighter Roger Webber.
But starting Monday, Roger Webber will have a new tool. The first vehicle dedicated to the new Health One program. It will carry two firefighters and a social worker to respond to non-emergency medical calls. Standard firefighting vehicles can take patients only to the emergency room, even if what they really need is drug treatment or a social worker.
“Our Health One personnel will be able to pick up the phone and call an urgent care and say, 'Hey, do you have an appointment,' I have someone right here. And if the person doesn't have a ride, they can put them in the seat and take them,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.
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Scoggins says 42% of the fire department's medical calls are not an acute emergency. That adds up to 30,000 non-emergency calls last year.
“The more we can relieve those calls the more we can have our firefighters focus on the true emergencies,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan.
As part of next year's city budget, Durkan is allocating $410,000 to enhance the fire departments Health One program and $310,000 to hire four additional mental health nurses for Seattle police, one for each precinct.
There will also be a dedicated Nurse Line for shelter providers to use for non-emergencies.
For firefighter Webber, it means not just saving lives, but helping people live better, “Just having other options to actually help human beings and not seeing them day after day, see them leaving the hospital while we're dropping someone else off know that we're going to see them again and if I work the next day I'll see them again.”
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