La Crosse firefighters hope to carry heroin antidote

Dept. asking state for permission to administer Narcan

The La Crosse Fire Department might be the first in Wisconsin to begin administering a life-saving drug at the scene of an overdose.

The fire department has expressed interested in applying to a pilot program through the state’s Emergency Medical Services department, and it’s the fire department to do so. The program would authorize firefighters to use Narcan, a drug being hailed as an overdose antidote.

“It’s safe, inexpensive, very easy to administer and there aren’t a lot of side effects,” said paramedic Eric Ellis. “It’s a pretty basic drug.”

Currently, Tri-State Ambulance paramedics are the only first responders in the La Crosse area who can administer the drug. Ellis said the company is on track to use Narcan 200 times this year. That’s compared to 43 times Tri-State used it in 2007.

“We’ve been using it since I started, it was a drug that was pretty common even seven years ago,” Ellis said. “It’s just becoming a lot more frequently used.”

 The pilot will give EMTs – and potentially La Crosse’s fire fighters – the opportunity to administer Narcan on-scene without waiting for paramedics to arrive. Groups can begin to apply for the pilot mid-November.

Assistant Chief Warren Thomas said as heroin use spikes in La Crosse and across the state, equipping more first responders to use Narcan is a necessary step in battling the epidemic.

“We already respond to heroin calls. As part of the community, this would be a good step for the fire department to apply to be considered in this pilot program, because we are actually out on the street responding to these calls as we speak,” Thomas said.


According to the EMS department, the pilot program is a response to increasing heroin-related deaths across the state. La Crosse’s fire department has seen more than a 50 percent increase in its responses to heroin overdoses since 2009, according to Thomas.  

“We’re very concerned,” Thomas said. “We’re going to hit 100 this year for overdose calls.”

Ellis and his fellow Tri-State paramedics are happy to share responsibility when it comes to this miracle drug. They’ll be the first to congratulate La Crosse’s firefighters if they’re approved for the Narcan pilot.

“It’ll be interesting to see the results from that study and hopefully see some positive side effects of the community for it,” Ellis said.

If approved for the pilot, La Crosse firefighters can begin administering Narcan as early as Jan. 1.

According to EMS spokesperson Fred Hornby, the pilot will also give the department a snapshot of current narcotics use in the state. He said by following where and how often Narcan is administered, officials can better track Wisconsin’s heroin hot spots.

The state’s Emergency Medical Services office is already considering allowing emergency medical technicians to carry Narcan. The fire department hopes for permission as well, citing an average of one heroin overdose in La Crosse every four days.