Portland Fire & Rescue to Launch Specialized Overdose Response Team

Station 1 will no longer send an 80,000-pound truck to administer Narcan downtown.

PROPORTIONAL RESPONSE: Engine 1 responding to an overdose in downtown Portland. (Lucas Manfield)

Beginning this month, Portland Fire & Rescue will begin sending two-member teams to drug overdoses downtown, according to Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, who oversees the bureau.

The idea is to take some of the strain off firefighters who have been driving an 80,000-pound ladder truck around downtown Portland responding to overdoses. The bureau responded to 7,000 overdoses last year—and a third of those missions were dispatched from Station 1, according to a statement released by Gonzalez’s office.

Last summer, this reporter watched a series of these calls over one night. In many instances, a dozen first responders would hop out of a fire truck, ambulance and police cars only to find that a bystander had already administered Narcan. Minutes later, the patient would walk away.

“I heard consistently from frontline first responders that the volume of overdose responses is killing the system, with the same patients overdosing repeatedly, typically refusing emergency room transport afterwards and often already being administered Narcan prior to arrival of Portland Fire,” Gonzalez said in the statement.

The team will be part of the bureau’s Community Health Assist and Treat program, which sends a smaller car to lower-acuity calls. CHAT team members will drop off several doses of Narcan, help arrange transportation to treatment, and even help sign patients for insurance, according to the statement.

Gonzalez says the pilot, if successful, could be expanded to other parts of the city.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.