A White Rock man was confused to hear pounding on his door in the early morning hours of Nov. 19, 2020.
His befuddlement must have grown when he opened it to find several firefighters standing outside. They told the man they had been dispatched to the house because someone was in medical distress.
The resident was convinced they had the wrong address and told them so.
But the White Rock firefighters insisted they were at the right location and that someone inside needed their help.
The man, who was renting a basement suite in the house from a family member, allowed the firefighters inside to search the house, where they found a young man inside his bedroom, unconscious and barely breathing.
Curiously, nobody from the house had phoned for medical assistance, nor, for that matter, did they have any clue their family member had overdosed on fentanyl and was clinging to life.
Rowan Buffett – an alias for a man whose identity Black Press has agreed not to reveal – is sharing his story of survival as a way to encourage others who use substances to download and use the Lifeguard phone application.
Lifeguard uses GPS tracking and user-input information to alert firefighters and paramedics when someone appears to be overdosing. The app asks the user to input their name, location, and what substance they’re using. The app then kick-starts a timer that finishes with an alarm. If the user doesn’t stop the alarm, paramedics are dispatched to the location.
Buffett, who’s in his 20s, says he is alive because of the app, which has saved him not once, but twice.
On that November day, Buffett smoked fentanyl as a way to self-medicate because of severe pain in his leg. Although he’d had negative experiences with fentanyl in the past, it was one of the few drugs he could get his hands on that would give him comfort.
After smoking, he blacked out. The next thing he remembers, he told Black Press, was waking up in the hallway surrounded by five firefighters.
“It didn’t take long until I realized what happened,” Buffett said. “I talked to (the firefighters) and I think they were kind of aware the app called them, but they had never had that happen before.”
Paramedics arrived on scene shortly after, and first responders saved Buffett’s life by administering naloxone. He was taken to hospital as a precaution.
“It was much more traumatic for (my family) at the time. I just woke up and everything’s fine for me, but they experienced the whole thing,” Buffett said.
A few months later, it happened again.
On Jan. 9, firefighters and paramedics received a similar call to the same address. This time, Buffett wasn’t breathing. Again, his family had no idea he was in medical distress.
“Because it was late at night and early in the morning, if I didn’t have the app, I’m pretty much positive I wouldn’t have survived,” Buffett said.
The app, which was launched in May 2020, was recommended to Buffett by Sources manager of substance use services George Passmore. (Sources is a non-profit community resource organization with numerous locations in the province, primarily in the Lower Mainland.)
When the app was brought to Buffett’s attention, he said he didn’t intend to use it.
“I just thought this maybe will come in handy or I will be able to show somebody else. It just seemed like a good idea for an app, I guess,” Buffett said.
His second overdose was the push Buffett needed to seek treatment.
“Somebody said at one point, the app could have not worked. And after the second time, it’s just getting a bit ridiculous. I can’t keep doing that because it’s so dangerous,” he said.
“I’ve been good since then.”
The drug overdose crisis killed 1,716 people B.C. in 2020, making it the deadliest year of the overdose crisis in the province. Some of the deceased were close friends of Buffett.
Buffett said he’s willing to share his story as a way to encourage people to use the app, or to share details about the app with a friend or family member who uses substances.
“I used it every single time. It wasn’t much of a burden,” Buffett said. “It’s a small inconvenience for the possible good that it does. I hope people will realize that.”
White Rock fire Chief Ed Wolfe told Black Press that calls from the app go directly to dispatch. The information about the call is not provided to police.
In Buffett’s case, someone was available to open the door for firefighters and paramedics. If they were to encounter a locked door, Wolfe said firefighters have authority to enter by other means.
“It’s very valuable. It’s essentially a life-saving piece,” Wolfe said of the app.
Buffett’s story drew an emotional response from Lifeguard founder Jeff Hardy, who also lives in White Rock.
“Honestly, I’m going to cry,” Hardy said. “That’s exactly what it was made for, exactly. I’m proud, honoured, and I’m happy that the gentleman is alive and is in treatment. I couldn’t be happier to hear that…. and it’s a White Rock guy.”
Hardy said Buffett’s story is an “unbelievable testimonial” for the app.
“That’s the best one we have, to be honest with you.”
According to BC Emergency Health Services, as of Feb. 28 there have been a total of 3,705 unique Lifeguard app users, and 30,113 all-time sessions. To date, Lifeguard usage has prompted 60 emergency responder calls and 14 overdose reversals.
No deaths have occurred during the use of Lifeguard.
Told of Buffett’s story, BCEHS senior provincial executive director and head of dispatch operations Neil Lilley, who assisted in developing the Lifeguard app, said he was at a loss for words.
“I’ll be honest, the hairs are standing on the back of my neck,” Lilley said. “To get that feedback from you, and to know that not only did it save somebody’s life on two occasions, but that it’s given the encouragement to get some treatment as well, it’s just amazing.”
More than three years ago, Lilley was approached by Hardy about the app. Since then, Lilley has been working with Lifeguard, which is directly connected into BCEHS 9-1-1 system, and is an executive sponsor of the project.
“I just want everybody that uses drugs alone to realize that it’s not safe. Anything can happen to them. (If) they download the Lifeguard application and have it on their phone, they have a chance of survival,” Lilley said.
Information about the Lifeguard app and how to download it can be found at https://lifeguarddh.com/