“Safe Station”: A Fire Chief’s Compassionate Response to the Opioid Crisis

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A fire chief speaks with someone sitting outside of a fire station, with a fire vehicle in the background.

Fire Chief Daniel A. Goonan speaks to a young person asking for help at the Manchester, New Hampshire, fire station. (Image by Manchester fire department.)

Here at NIDA, our mission is to:

  • Support research on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction.
  • Apply that knowledge to improve health.

It takes a lot of smart and compassionate people to help us with that mission—people like the members of NIDA’s National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (NACDA). The members of NACDA include researchers, physicians, treatment professionals, a fire chief…

Wait a minute. A fire chief?

A request for help  

NIDA asked Dan Goonan, Fire Chief in Manchester, New Hampshire, to join NACDA because he started a program called “Safe Station” to help people in Manchester who are misusing prescription opioids. “Safe Station” has inspired other communities around the country to do something similar.

In an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, Chief Goonan described how the program started:

“In the spring of 2016, a kid named Cameron walked into the Manchester fire station. He told our firefighters he was addicted to opioids. He had hit a low. He didn’t know where else to turn, but he knew he wanted to make a change.  

“The firefighters welcomed Cameron in the door. They connected him to a recovery organization in town, and he got back on his feet. But at this point in the crisis, with opioid overdose numbers as high as they were, it was clear to me and my staff that helping one person wasn’t enough. So, we said, hey, we need to do something, and we did.”

A hand of kindness

Chief Goonan told us: “Cameron just knew that he could turn to the fire department for help. Within 2 weeks of our encounter with Cameron, and on my first official day as Chief, we announced that the Manchester Fire Department was open anytime to anyone who needed help with substance use disorder. 

“The fire department has always been a place that the community could come for any kind of help and in any crisis. To me, this is a natural fit.

“With ‘Safe Station,’ we offer a stigma-free place to ask for help—a ‘no-judgment zone.’ We provide an initial medical evaluation, triage, and immediately direct the person to the right organization. That might be for medical treatment, if necessary, or to an organization that can assess the person’s need for addiction treatment. 

“When we started the program, I thought we might see a few people a month. But in less than 4 years, ‘Safe Station’ has helped more than 7,000 people in Manchester and another 3,000 at the Nashua, New Hampshire, Fire Department.

"We’ve seen people from all over the state, and many others from New England and across the country. We’re also getting calls from cities across the country, asking how they can start a program like it.”

An inspiring idea

The “Safe Station” program is a great example of how communities are finding compassionate approaches to help people struggling with problems with drugs. These communities understand that a substance use disorder is a disease, and they’re making a real difference.

NIDA salutes Dan Goonan and the other community heroes like him who are helping to improve—and even save—thousands of lives with programs like “Safe Station."

Learn more: how to safely dispose of (throw away) opioids.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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