Mass. fire dept. completes sensitivity training after Facebook fallout

The sensitivity training followed one firefighter's post that went viral saying drug addicts shouldn't be given Narcan


By Christian Schiavone
The Patriot Ledger

WEYMOUTH, Mass. — Three months after a Weymouth firefighter's disparaging post about drug addicts triggered a social media firestorm and his suspension, the department has completed training aimed at giving firefighters a better understanding of addiction.

The department on Thursday completed sensitivity and social media training for the last of its 88 members. The hour-long training session included presentations by Joanne Peterson, founder of the addiction support group Learn to Cope, and Mark Dolloff, a retired Stoughton fire chief who works for the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office doing outreach and education around the overdose reversing drug naloxone.

A Weymouth firefighter served a 90-day suspension without pay after he posted comments on his personal Facebook page that addicts shouldn't be given naloxone, which is also known by the brand name Narcan. The posting ended up on a public page and went viral.

Fire Chief Keith Stark said the training was well received by firefighters.

"We as a department are a stronger organization from this happening to us. We learn from our mistakes. We learn together and we're going to move forward together," he said. "Our members learned that there are layers of people behind the person we're helping and we're also helping them."

The Weymouth Fire Department in 2013 became the fourth public safety department in the state to equip all members with naloxone. Quincy police were the first municipal department in the nation to do so in 2010. Many more departments, including Weymouth police, have adopted naloxone as restrictions on who can carry and administer it have eased.

Since 2013 Weymouth firefighters have used a nasal spray form of naloxone to reverse more than 500 overdoses involving heroin and prescription painkillers called opioids.

"I want to let the citizens of Weymouth know that all first responders in Weymouth care about each and every one of them and that every life matters," Stark said. "We realize that there is a serious opioid crisis in our community and the Weymouth Fire Department is trying to be a part of the solution."

The department also spearheaded an addiction support network aimed at connecting addicts and their families with services.

Weymouth and the South Shore region have been hard hit by the heroin and prescription painkiller abuse crisis, which has sent addicts teeming into jail cells, emergency rooms and morgues. In Norfolk County, 144 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, according to preliminary numbers from the state Department of Public Health. In Plymouth County the death toll was 151.

Peterson, the Learn to Cope founder, said she started her presentation to Weymouth firefighters by thanking all of them for the work they do to save people who overdose. She also told them that addiction can happen to anyone.

Peterson said she's not aware of any other fire department that's hosted a similar sensitivity training.

Stark, the Weymouth fire chief, said the training also encouraged firefighters to avoid controversial statements on social media and discussed burnout among members. He said stress management services have been offered to firefighters to deal with any frustration they experience dealing with the drug epidemic.

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(c)2016 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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