As a Calgary firefighter, I’ve seen the opioid epidemic escalate from a “new thing” into a full-blown national nightmare. In 2014, I transferred to one of the busier districts in the city, near Chinook Mall where overdoses soon became commonplace.
At first they occured where you might expect them: derelict corners in industrial spaces hidden from sight. But as time went on, my crews and I were responding to overdose calls anywhere and everywhere — mall washrooms, 7-Eleven, hiking paths on busy weekends.
Then the drugs became more dangerous. A more potent variation, carfentanil, rose to prominence. It was 100 times more powerful. Sometimes it was mixed with meth.
People often react to us firefighters like we’re there to judge or get them in trouble. When patients aren’t honest about the drugs they’ve taken, it makes it harder for us to help them — which is what we’re there for — whether that means giving them oxygen until the medics arrive, or doing CPR so they make it to the emergency room.
You join the job to help make an impact on people’s lives – not hold them over till their next hit. It’s like watching multiple suicides in slow motion and all you can do is stand and watch from a world removed. At least I have a way out.
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