West Virginia’s first female fire chief is saving lives with her compassionate approach to dealing with addicts.
Long before the opioid crisis became national news, Jan Rader could see what was coming. The RN-turned-firefighter watched as her adopted hometown of Huntington became the “overdose capital of America.” She saw people reusing needles, rapidly spreading blood-borne disease. So, in 2014, she helped found the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s Harm Reduction Program—a syringe exchange and safe space for those suffering from addiction that helps get them into long-term treatment.
She continued this compassionate approach after becoming chief of the Huntington Fire Department in 2017. In the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning Netflix documentary Heroin(e), Rader is shown personally delivering the opioid antidote Naloxone to fire departments. “I don’t care if I have to save somebody 50 times,” Rader says in the film. “That’s 50 chances to get into long-term recovery.”
Thanks in part to her efforts, Huntington’s overdose rate is down 40 percent since 2014, and the city’s overdose death rates have decreased by half. Rader has been featured on CBS News, National Public Radio, Vice News, and other news outlets, and in 2018 was named to TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People.
As of this writing, her 2018 TED Talk about the opioid crisis has been viewed more than a million times. “This epidemic is far from over,” she tells the audience near the end of the 15-minute speech. “But each and every one of us has a part to play in this epidemic. Just by listening and being kind to somebody, you have the ability to make a difference in their lives.”