Fla. firefighter gives hope to overdose victims

Card's simple message of 'Your Life Matters' is non-confrontational and includes a list of phone numbers to get help

BY Kate Irby
The Bradenton Herald

MANATEE, Fla. — Firefighter Mike Dunn said he's seen too many overdose victims lately, and it was frustrating to him to revive victims only to leave and hope they'd decide to quit.

"We do our best to save this person," said Dunn, who has been with Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue in Bradenton since 2007. "When we're successful, we basically say: 'Glad you're OK,' get in the truck and leave. And I wanted to do more."

Dunn went to Fire Chief Jeff Hoyle in November and discussed developing a card that first-responders could pass out to overdose victims and family members encouraging them to seek help. Hoyle passed the idea along to Jessica Spencer, project director of the Manatee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and the idea became a reality.

"As soon as they mentioned it to me, we were on board," Spencer said. "We thought this was wonderful."

Spencer and Dunn said they liked the idea of a card because it is nonconfrontational and addicts who weren't ready to quit might come across it later.

Dunn stayed involved, overseeing the design of the card, which simply says: "Your life matters," on the front with a list of phone numbers addicts can call for help on the back, including Manatee Glens in Bradenton, First Step in Sarasota and Harvest House in Sarasota.

"I wanted the first thing they see to be, 'Your life matters.' Because it does matter to us. It matters to me," Dunn said. "I've just seen so many of these that it breaks my heart."

Dunn said he purposely kept it simple, and that he didn't want any law enforcement or fire department logos on it.

"When they wake up, the first thing we do is ask them what they took, and they always say, 'Nothing.' There's automatically a guard up with us," Dunn said. "We want them to feel safe and not think they'll get in trouble."

Spencer said they're in the final stages of getting the cards to first responders throughout Manatee County. She thinks they'll start with 5,000 cards, although with the number of overdose calls every day, she said she expects they'll soon need more. She's still working out cost and printing arrangements.

Dunn said he was surprised the idea took off, and he's glad to work with a fire department that moved the idea forward. He said he's not sure when the cards will be in official use, but that he's hoping for as soon as possible.

"These people are just in such a dark place," Dunn said. "I wanted to try to give them a little bit of light."

©2015 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.)


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