Santa Monica Fire Department’s new Community Response Unit
By Dolores Quintana
The Santa Monica Fire Department (SMFD) has a new unit that may be one of the first of its kind anywhere.
On September 13, the SMFD launched a brand new program called the Community Resource Unit or CRU. This new program seeks to offer the public, especially those who are most vulnerable, a new resource for people in need of help for behavioral health or other crisis as an alternative to calling 911. The CRU unit is an ambulance that carries two firefighters, but while it may seem like any other ambulance, it has a different goal in mind.
“For the first few months, we plan on hitting the ground running. This is a completely new type of program for our Fire Department, or any Fire Department for that matter. We want to be out front learning as much as we can, and discovering where we are most effective. Out of the box, we are already equipped to do some amazing things like diverting mental health patients from crowded emergency rooms to alternative destinations, such as Psychiatric Urgent Care Centers, which is really where they can get the appropriate care they need,” Patrick Nulty, SMFD Fire Captain told the Santa Monica Daily Press.
Because those members of the community who are most at risk, including those people who are experiencing homelessness, only have the option of calling 911 for medical care, this program was created to address these issues specifically.
The Santa Monica Fire Department website says “The CRU is part of the City’s four-pillar approach to addressing homelessness, which includes: prevent homelessness; address behavioral health needs; maintain access to safe, fun, and healthy open spaces; and advocate for regional capacity.”
It is the City’s intention that CRU units will work together with the City Attorney’s office and Human Services Division and the Santa Monica Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Officers. The City would like for the CRU and these specific departments to work in harmony to achieve the best results and the City of Santa Monica’s long-term goals.
Firefighters who are part of this program will also be given specialized training in mental health emergencies, crisis communications, de-escalation, and substance use disorders. Each CRU unit will have one firefighter who is a licensed paramedic. This will ensure that the CRU unit has the ability to access medical emergencies and check for severe health conditions in patients so they will be able to provide any care that might be needed as soon as possible. In addition, if the need for care is not critical, the firefighters can help in other ways. They can provide information and help people access other city services. The CRU unit members can transport patients to a more appropriate psychiatric urgent care center if their issue is mental health-related in origin.
“These highly trained Santa Monica Fire Department professionals look forward to serving the Santa Monica community and helping those in need with specialized interventions and access to supportive services,” said Interim Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe. “This is something our team has been working toward for a long time and this launch is a big day for us as we evolve our service to uniquely meet the community’s needs.”
The CRU program has been funded by the Santa Monica City Council for fiscal years 2021 to 2023, with a budget of $523,000 for those two years. This includes personnel, training, equipment/vehicle maintenance, and other miscellaneous expenses. CRU services will be available to the public during peak hours from Monday through Thursday each day.
“The Santa Monica City Council wholeheartedly moved the Community Response Unit forward earlier this year as one new investment to meet our community priority of addressing homelessness,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “The CRU’s ‘one meaningful intervention at a time approach’ will help improve outcomes for individuals experiencing homeless and will serve as an additional team on our streets to meet this crisis head on.”
One of the other goals for the CRU units is to prioritize calls that do not need a traditional emergency response, leaving emergency units and the police free to service life-threatening situations. The CRU can then divert non-emergency and mental health issues to more appropriate services for help. CRU units will be able to work with city agencies, non-profit organizations, and other resources to get help for those in need. This is a very different function that will not only help vulnerable individuals but will lighten the load on emergency responders and services.