Is Narcan turning firefighters from helpers to haters?
Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics have an obligation to respond regardless of their opinions about addiction and Narcan
By Dan Limmer
Few things have caused as much recent conversation in EMS as the use of Narcan. This lifesaving medication is quickly losing its wonder drug status. Many EMS providers now view the medication as an enabler of drug addiction rather than as a lifesaver.
A Weymouth, Mass. firefighter recently posted a message on his Facebook page that gave the issue mainstream media attention:
"Narcan is the worst drug ever created, let the [expletive] bags die … I for one get no extra money for giving Narcan and these losers are out of the hospital and using again in hours. You use, you should lose!"
The firefighter was suspended without pay for 90 days. IAFF Local 1616 in Weymouth was forced to quickly issue a statement that called the comments "disappointing" and reminded residents that their safety is a top priority.
Some have called for the firefighter's termination, while others cite his 90-day suspension as a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Public trust issue
This issue comes down to one simple fact, which rises above the first amendment: Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should.
Of course this statement can be applied to everyone, but especially to those of us in public safety. Police, fire and EMS personnel occasionally complain about being held to a higher standard than others.
But we also cite that higher standard when seeking raises and respect from the community — the same community that expects us to save them without judgment in an emergency.
And the simple truth is that true heroes don't go around wishing death to anyone on their Facebook page — ever.
At a time when firefighters and EMS providers are under increasing scrutiny for everything from driving apparatus to the supermarket to how they spend down time at the station, when unions in general are also under attack, a firefighter's stating that he isn't paid enough to administer a simple lifesaving medication is nothing short of absurd.
Stupid need not call
What's next? Perhaps the target will be people who are obese and EMS providers will refuse to do CPR, saying these people deserve to die because of their lifelong consumption of saturated fats.
Or how about people who forget their epinephrine auto injectors and then have the nerve to be exposed to an allergen — and a provider claims they're too stupid to live?
Or those careless people who crash after texting while driving. Should they be left on the side of the road to bleed to death or choke on their own vomit? Providers could claim they aren't paid enough to do that either.
Regardless of your personal opinion on addiction and the use of naloxone, consider this. If you're an EMS provider face-to-face with another human being who is two or three shallow breaths away from death and the choice is yours — would you really let the [expletive] addict die?
If your answer is really yes, and not because you're blowing off frustration after a series of bad calls, then a 90-day suspension isn't enough. You should no longer be allowed to put the word firefighter, EMT or paramedic before your name.
If you answered yes while blowing off steam and you later realize the error of your ways, you should apologize — immediately and publicly. Fall on the sword so your brothers and sisters in fire and EMS don't have to take the brunt of your thoughtlessness.
And if the firefighter who posted that Facebook comment ever responds to another EMS call for an opioid overdose, he'd better race everyone to the naloxone kit and administer it like he intends to save a life.
About the Author
Dan Limmer is a paramedic, educator and police officer who has been involved in public safety for more than 35 years. He has authored more than a dozen EMS textbooks including the Emergency Care textbook and is a frequent international conference speaker. He is the Chief Pass-ologist at Limmer Creative, a company he co-founded to publish high-quality study and test-prep programs.
This article, originally published Feb. 3, 2016, has been updated with current information