EJFR to expand ability to help

City-hosted grant adds ‘tools to toolbox’

PORT TOWNSEND – When people don’t know who to call, they often call the fire department.

And although fire department personnel are committed to offering any assistance they can, a large volume of calls dealing with lifestyle, engineering or social service needs can strain the resources of agencies created to fight fires and provide emergency medical care.

So East Jefferson Fire Rescue welcomes a $217,300 grant that will fund EJFR CARES.

“CARES is a fire service acronym — Community Assistance, Referral and Education Services,” said Chief Bret Black in a press release issued Friday by the City of Port Townsend.

As societal needs have changed, “the fire department has a long history of pivoting and broadening our services,” Black said in a phone interview on Friday.

“This is the latest iteration.”

Modelled after similar successful programs in Poulsbo and Kitsap County, EJFR CARES will be staffed by a full-time East Jefferson emergency medical services professional partnered with a full time social worker employed by Believe in Recovery.

The team also will have access to a substance use disorder professional who will assist with calls related to drug and alcohol use.

“We’re trying to send the right tool in the toolbox for the right call,” Black said.

Examples are connecting those who have ongoing mobility or medical problems with social services or medical contacts that can help them long-term, filling out necessary forms or linking those in need with mental health or substance abuse professionals.

“All things that improve the outcomes of community members and keep the fire department available for what they are really designed for,” Black said.

“Part of the fire service’s mission is prevention; we look for opportunities to better serve our residents before they need to call 911.

“The CARES program will help resolve the needs of our community where a fire engine or ambulance is not needed.”

The goal is to staff the unit beginning in January with a focus on education and referral services, ensuring community members gain access to the most appropriate resources, as well as serving as a specialty unit responding to behavioral health and other crisis related emergencies, the release said.

The chief said that the department had identified more than 1,000 calls annually that could be impacted by the CARES unit.

“As our call volume increases, we need to maximize our 911 resources,” he said in the release.

“Ultimately, our goal is to provide suitable ‘wrap-around’ services, keeping our firefighters and EMS professionals available for peak events such as structure fires and life-saving medical response.”

EJFR CARES will “establish a vital service providing alternative methods of service delivery in a manner that supports and complements other programs such as the REAL Team and Navigator Programs,” according to the release issued by Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro.

The city serves as the host agency of the grant from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) which will fund entirely for six months the CARES program in all of East Jefferson County. Black said the hope it that is will be renewed after that time.

“We are thrilled and grateful to receive this funding,” Mauro said in the release, “as it’ll add even more energy to our valuable and growing partnership with EJFR to serve our community in better and more innovative ways.”

Said Black: “We really appreciate it that the city is willing to be the host for services that go beyond city’s obligation.”

The grant award was one of 14 programs funded by AWC to establish new and support fledgling alternative response teams. The Alternative Response Team (ART) Grant program provides cities funding to create and support programs within different alternative response models.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at lleach@soundpublishing.com.

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