Seattle Fire's new Health One unit responding to a diverse pool of calls

SEATTLE – A new pilot program called Health One is in its third week at the Seattle Fire Department to respond to calls that aren’t considered emergencies.

There were 96,000 calls to the 911 center in 2018. About 42 percent of them were considered non-emergency, according to the city of Seattle.

The pilot program provides services to non-emergency calls, and keeps resources free for emergencies that need immediate attention.

The Health 1 Unit includes two firefighters, Roger Webber and Matt Jung, and a case manager Ashley Clayton.

The firefighters are also EMTs who underwent special training in mental health and motivational interviewing, among other training requirements.

The most unique aspect is the addition of a case manager and social worker to the response team.

“This resource will help them meet the folks that don’t necessarily need to stay home or be at the ER, and there’s that sweet spot in between of finding them resources that will help them,” says Clayton, “because they are calling for a reason, and they are calling 911 because that is how people reach out to try and get help.”

The team says in the last few weeks, Health 1 has responded to calls for drug abuse, mental health crises, caring for senior citizens and people who are homeless.

The team is there to help resolve any issue a person could be facing. That includes giving people rides to receive social services, connecting them with resources and even developing a plan for services.

Webber is a 20-year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department who is finding his new role rewarding.

“I’ve been helping people, but always sending them to the emergency room and sometimes we’d see the same person two or three times in a day because they were letting themselves out of the emergency room and that wasn’t a good fit for them,” says Webber. “It was easy for 20 years to spend 15 minutes and be done with a run, and spending hours with a patient you get to see them on a human level.”

Jung has over a decade of firefighting experience, and Clayton has more than two decades under her belt in social services.

The team spends an average of 40 minutes on each call, but have stayed as long as three hours. They also have the opportunity to do follow-up checks on callers who agree to it.