Santa Monica Fire Department Launches Community Response Unit Pilot

March 22, 2019
by Patrick Nulty

Santa Monica Fire Department Launches Community Response Unit Pilot

Beginning in January, the Santa Monica Fire Department (SMFD) launched a 6-month pilot program called the Community Response Unit (CRU). The goal of this program is to improve the safety, health, and wellbeing of our community’s most vulnerable populations. This includes people experiencing homelessness, vulnerably housed adults, people with mental illness, people with substance use disorder, and high utilizers of public safety services. “Over 20% of our 9-1-1 responses in Santa Monica are for someone experiencing homelessness.” says Captain Matt Norris who has worked to establish the Community Response Unit.

The goal of this pilot is to have a fire department presence within Santa Monica’s network of social service providers and to determine what would be the best model moving forward for the SMFD.  In the last few months, Captain Norris has met with dozens of providers across the city to build relationships between them and the Fire Department, and he has delivered training to SMFD personnel on how to connect people to resources.

“There are many fire departments across the country who have implemented similar programs and are having a lot of success” says Norris who recently visited with the Seattle (WA) Fire Department. During the SMFD pilot, the department deployed the CRU as a 2-person Paramedic team which allows the team to also respond to 9-1-1 calls.

“Within the first hour of our first day deploying in the field, one of our Engines was on a call for an elderly woman they respond to frequently for falls. We were able to relieve the Firefighters on scene so they could go back in service and we spent the next 45 minutes with the woman, fixed her bed, discussed some possible home care options, and then connected her with Wise and Healthy aging for a follow-up. She hasn’t had to call us since.”

The program will target four activities that will work towards accomplishing their mission, as follows: 

  • Prevention: Leverage Santa Monica Fire Department’s unique role in the community to connect vulnerable populations with the most appropriate resources to prevent homelessness.
  • Education: Provide training to Fire Department personnel regarding vulnerable populations.  Work with and inform partner agencies about Fire Department response and capabilities with vulnerable populations.
  • Engagement: While in the community, look for and create opportunities to engage with vulnerable populations and to develop relationships that lead to connections to social service providers.
  • Response: Respond to incidents with standard Fire Department resources to vulnerable populations.  This will get the right resource at the right time to these incidents which may develop consistent relationships and connect individuals to services.

Norris would like to see the team become a fixture within the Santa Monica Fire Department. “As Firefighters and Paramedics, we are in a unique position to make a difference because we are often the first call when people need help.”

The Community Response Unit pilot will continue until June 2019.

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