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NH News

Manchester Fire Dept running community response unit to address increase in emergency calls

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Emergency calls in Manchester have changed a lot over the past few decades, says Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Cashin.

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When Cashin first started at the Manchester Fire Department over 20 years ago, he said the department would take between 12-15,000 medical calls a year. Now that number is closer to 28,000.

9-1-1 calls for mental health crises, substance misuse and homelessness have increased. These calls, Cashin says, rarely require a large team and an ambulance. He says that type of response can actually make a situation worse.

At the same time, Cashin says, while call volume has risen over the years, staffing numbers have remained consistent.

It has all pushed the department to restructure its EMS team, and create a small community response unit, also called “Squad One.”

The launch of Squad One pairs with the Fire Department retiring the Safe Station service last month, where people looking for help related to substance misuse could walk into the fire station for medical screening and a handoff to services. Now, that service has transitioned to behavioral health providers in the region.

Cashin says the team started operating as an outreach group during the pandemic, when many of the city’s residents experiencing homelessness were forced to spend more time outside and unsheltered.

Now, Squad One is finally operating as the department envisioned; as a small two-person unit that can respond directly to 9-1-1 calls. The unit includes one fire officer and one firefighter. The two can call in additional resources if needed, such as the region’s mobile crisis unit.

While it’s still new, Cashin says Squad One is already the “busiest company we have in service.”

Right now, the unit operates during the daytime with weekday hours, but Cashin is hopeful that he’ll be able to secure funding for more time.

Editors Note: This article was corrected to reflect that the unit includes one firefighter and one fire officer. We previously said police officer. We regret the error.