La Crosse Fire Dept: “Used needle pickup draining resources”

Chief Cleveland said department has picked up 60 needles already this year

The fight against heroin use in the area has been going on for a long time now, but most recently, it’s starting to wear on the Fire Department’s resources.

Because of the La Crosse Fire Department’s internal infectious disease program, they’ve taken the lead when it comes to picking up used needles for the past year and a half.

But with calls coming in on a weekly basis, Chief Gregg Cleveland said they have had to be more strategic about picking them up so they don’t impact the response to an emergency situation.

“It can range from one to two needles to a time where we’ve gone to a whole case of needles, a beer case, 24-pack that someone tried stuffing down the sewer,” said Capt. Tony Nickelatti, La Crosse Fire Departent.

Nickelatti has been with the department for more than 20 years and has noticed the increase in calls

“I know we had a call at Houska Park where a child thought it was a pen and started playing with it and they stuck themselves. So things like that happen,” said Cleveland.

The Fire Department started tracking the needle pickups in March of 2014. In nine months in 2014, they picked up 53 needles. This year already, from Jan. to July, they’ve picked up 60.

“That’s what concerns us from a public health standpoint and from a resource standpoint,” said Cleveland. “We don’t want to be out of our district picking up needles when we have a more serious situation happening somewhere else.”

So the Fire Department is trying to combine calls to limit the amount of resources used.

“We don’t interrupt our mission on a day-to-day basis,” said Cleveland. “We do these when we go back and forth to calls or traveling through the area, we stop and pick it up.”

But Cleveland knows continuing to pick them up isn’t going to solve the problem.

“That is why we are working with the heroin task force to do some education to stop the supply of the needles put on sidewalks, parks and other public places,” said Cleveland. “We want to lower them, eliminate them so we can be ready for situations that really deserve our attention.”

Chief Cleveland said along with working on an education initiative, the Fire Department will continue to pick up used needles that were not thrown away properly. However, it’s not going to take priority over other emergency calls.

If you do find a used needle in our area, do not touch it. Call non-emergency dispatch at 608-785-5962 and the Fire Department will pick it up as soon as they can.