Chief Goonan fights suggestions on Safe Station limitations

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Manchester Fire Department Chief Dan Goonan -Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – If one thing was made certain at city hall on Tuesday, it’s that the Manchester Fire Department is going to help anyone in need.

That was the primary message Manchester Fire Department Chief Dan Goonan provided to members of the Board of Aldermen Special Committee on Alcohol, Drugs and Youth Services.

In the Special Committee, aldermen discussed the possibility of allowing only Manchester residents to access the city’s Safe Stations program, citing a lack of financial support from the state government and other New Hampshire municipalities sending those in need to Manchester without providing the financial support to care for them.

Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil said he believed that mandatory identification card checks on non-medical calls at Safe Stations were necessary, sharing a concern he is hearing from Manchester residents that people from across the state are endangering safety in the city.

Goonan replied that he would rather see the entire system shut down, citing that everyone interacting with first responders in Safe Station situations are in need of help one way or another.

“I’m sick of the politics. It’s ridiculous. Politics is killing people,” said Goonan.

Ward 6 Alderwoman Elizabeth Moreau also added that in many Safe Station situations, both medical and non-medical, the person in need of help is not cognizant enough to provide proper identification.

In a letter sent to the special committee, Goonan shared his belief that it is neither realistic nor ethical to turn people away, especially as pressure on the state and other communities appears to be slowly working.

Mayor Joyce Craig echoed those statements, telling the special committee about recent productive discussions with state and federal officials as well as other municipal leaders across the state. Specifically, she told the special committee that the rest of the state is slowly beginning to understand that Manchester has burdened a disproportionate share of the Granite State’s opioid crisis and that more 24-hour treatment facilities for individuals dealing with opioid overdoses are expected in the near future.

The special committee voted 3-2 to table the issue for now, with Moreau, Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry and Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh voting in favor and O’Neil and Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines voting in opposition.

This led to an outcry from Manchester resident Jeff Kassell, who demanded to address the special committee but was told he could not share his thoughts until the public participation period of the full board meeting later in the night.

There, Kassell voiced his opposition to non-Manchester residents using Manchester Safe Stations, saying that the entire Board of Aldermen should be voted out of office in November.

That was not the end of the topic, with Alderman At-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur recommending that only individuals facing a medical emergency be treated at Safe Station, with non-emergency situations being diverted to Granite Pathways and other facilities in the city.

As in the special committee meeting, Goonan sharply criticized this approach, noting that Levasseur had no direct experience with the Safe Station system.

“We will help anyone that wants to come through the door, we’ve had this discussion over and over,” said Goonan. “This is a nationally-recognized model. We’re in the business to help people. Period. If evaluating them and getting them to a place where they can be helped is what they need, we are going to do that.”