Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 3, 2014

Narcan a win for the town â€" and the fire chief

The Andover Townsman

---- — Fire Chief Mike Mansfield needed this one.

Late last Friday afternoon, after a process that took months of hard work, Mansfield went to Lawrence General Hospital and picked up 10 Narcan kits, which he then drove back to the Central Station and placed in the town ambulances.

Over the weekend, EMTs responded to two heroin overdoses in town — one on Interstate 93 and another at Merrimack College. While Narcan — a nasal spray used to bring opiate overdose victims back to life — was not used in either case, it seems likely that it could be used soon.

Last year, town ambulances responded to eight overdoses. This year, they have already responded to six, Mansfield said. Clearly, the problem of heroin addiction is not going away anytime soon, if ever. To have a tool in the town’s first responders’ first-aid kit that can save lives quickly and easily is a no-brainer.

The chief is to be congratulated for spearheading the effort to bring this life-saving treatment to Andover. He is the first public safety official in the Merrimack Valley to get Narcan on the streets where it is needed. There is no reason Andover should lose another one of its residents, young or old, due to an overdose when they can be treated by local EMTs who are usually first on the scene of such medical calls.

But Mansfield has had a tough go of it on other fronts recently.

He was thwarted, for the second year in a row, in his effort to bring Advanced Life Support to Andover. Last year, Town Meeting voters rejected his proposal to purchase about $150,000 worth of equipment needed to bring the town’s two ambulance squads from Basic Life Saving to ALS. Mansfield said it’s his top public safety priority. Plus, he says, the revenue from insurance is actually double or triple the cost of implementing ALS. He says he already has five, trained paramedics on staff who can use the equipment. He said when they get to a scene where advanced life saving could be used, they have to sit by until paramedics from Lawrence General Hospital arrive to administer the care.

But selectmen and other officials say that the cost of training personnel and maintaining such a service is too costly. Some say there would be no appreciable increase in revenue. Others say that there is no reason for local paramedics to take on ALS when Lawrence General Hospital staff can handle the work.

The problem is, however, waiting for LGH crews to arrive increases valuable time needed to save lives. Further, there are times when LGH crews are too busy on other calls and can’t even make it to Andover. Now that the hospital has taken over as the city of Lawrence’s ambulance service, a contract they won from Patriot Ambulance, they are going to be even busier.

During a recent budget hearing, just as Mansfield was making his pitch to selectmen again this year for ALS, Denise Palumbo, executive vice president of Lawrence General Hospital, announced that the hospital had purchased a new ambulance that will “ensure enhanced coverage for the town and redundancy when there are competing calls for service.”

Mansfield’s request to retrofit two ambulances with ALS was killed once again.

Mansfield faces another issue — with the Ballardvale fire station. For years, fire officials have been trying to get the town to build a new station in Ballardvale, saying the old station is outdated and in some instances unsafe. This week, during a Monday night budget session, selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli asked if it might be better just to spend a half-million dollars to patch up the old station as a way to delay building a costly new one.

The idea did not sit well with Mansfield.

“What I’m hearing is that we’ll throw in $500,000 and in five years this project will be no closer,” he said. “There will be other projects that will slide ahead of it and there will always be reasons why this station never gets the attention it deserves from these government bodies.”

It remains to be seen what will happen with the Ballardvale station or Advanced Life Support in the future, but at least Mansfield has one win in his pocket this week with Narcan — and the residents and taxpayers of Andover are better off for it.