N.H. Firefighter Behind ‘Safe Station’ Also Combats Drug Stigma

Nov 24, 2017

Morning Edition's Rick Ganley, left, interviews Firefighter Chris Hickey.
Credit NHPR File

With New Hampshire still in opioid crisis mode, Chris Hickey says part of the challenge continues to be fighting the stigma around drug addiction.

Hickey is the firefighter behind the Manchester Fire Department's "Safe Station," a program that welcomes addicts and directs them to available drug and substance abuse treatment and recovery services.

"Just because they come in more than once doesn't mean it's a failure," Hickey said during a recent interview with NHPR.  

"The biggest thing that we've found that we've had to do is to change the mindset and change that stigma, even amongst ourselves, of what it means when someone's addicted to these drugs and different chemicals."

Speaking with Morning Edition's Rick Ganley on Election Day, Hickey says he and Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan hear from fire departments around the country about trying to adopt a similar program. Goonan was recently at the White House, where President Trump pointed to Manchester's "Safe Station" as an example of fighting the opioid, heroin, and fentanyl epidemic. 

Ganley: Why do you think the program has been so successful?

Hickey: "I think it's because you're not forcing anybody into treatment. What you're having is someone who's coming in on their own free will. They're the ones making that decision to come in for treatment, to try to get the help and services they need."

Ganley: Are you hearing from other cities that are trying to start these programs?

Hickey: "On a weekly basis. Chief Goonan and I hear from a department somewhere in the country that wants information on how we got started, kind of what the base model and base idea of it is. There's, unfortunately, no cookie cutter, blueprint type program for it because each community is different and the resources that they have access to are different. We try to guide them and give them help and feedback with the trials we've gone through, so that the mistakes aren't made and they can get their program up and running."

VIDEO: Watch more of Hickey speaking about Safe Station with Rick Ganley: