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Bellingham mayor fights fentanyl crisis with first-responder office downtown

Kim Lund announces executive order to bolster police presence, medical response

Emergency Medical Services Division Chief Scott Ryckman checks on a person huddled in a doorway on Commercial Street in Bellingham on Thursday, Feb. 15.
Emergency Medical Services Division Chief Scott Ryckman checks on a person huddled in a doorway on Commercial Street in Bellingham, Thursday, Feb. 15. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

Confronted with a mounting fentanyl crisis, Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund on Tuesday, Feb. 20 announced actions intended to combat both the deteriorating quality of life downtown and the drug epidemic’s rising death toll.

Through an executive order she signed Tuesday, Lund is beefing up police patrols downtown and establishing a first-responder office near the Commercial Street Parking Garage, to bring emergency medical personnel closer to the high concentration of overdose calls downtown.

These incidents are typically clustered at several downtown locations, according to Bellingham fire officials, including the parking garage and the alleyways behind Cornwall and Railroad avenues. 

Standing with Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig and Fire Chief Bill Hewett, the mayor announced her initiative Tuesday afternoon at the site of the new office, 1306 Commercial St.

From left, Fire Chief Bill Hewett, Mayor Kim Lund and Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig announce the city’s plan to increase its response opioid overdoses in downtown Bellingham on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

“This feels really hopeful, and that’s really a lot of the intention behind taking this executive order,” Lund said.

Overdoses in Bellingham continue to surge, especially downtown.

According to city data, the number of 911 calls reporting overdoses doubled in January compared to the same month a year ago, to 75 from 37 in January 2023. The downtown figure jumped even more dramatically, from eight overdose calls in January 2023 to 38 last month.

The Bellingham Fire Department sent medical crews to 898 overdose calls in 2023, up from 537 in 2022. In January of this year, the fire department responded to 104 overdose calls, putting it on pace for well over 1,000 calls this year.

Lund began working on her executive order two weeks ago, after a conversation with Hewett.


People fill the alley between JJ’s In and Out and the Horseshoe Cafe on Thursday, Feb. 15. The alley is one location where emergency personnel respond to opioid overdoses in the downtown corridor. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Lund recalled the fire chief commenting to her on Feb. 6 that he was “about ready to park an ambulance in the alleyway,” off Holly Street near Railroad Avenue — an area of frequent overdose calls.

“My response to that was, ‘Why wouldn’t we?'” Lund added.

Lund’s order stops short of an emergency declaration. A city news release said the executive order was “within the mayor’s existing budget and executive authority.”

The executive order is one of several by local governments to combat fentanyl. Lummi Nation declared an emergency in September 2023 after at least seven tribal members died of overdose in a two-week period. The Whatcom County Council is preparing its own emergency declaration, emphasizing both law enforcement and drug treatment.

Lund’s order calls on police to go after drug dealers more aggressively, in partnership with the Whatcom County Drug and Gang Task Force.

Local leaders, including Mayor Kim Lund, chat following Bellingham’s announcement of the city’s effort to improve downtown quality of life and combat drug overdoses. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

“My hope and dream for downtown is that people can come here and feel safe,” Mertzig said. “And in order to feel safe, you need to see police officers doing their job.”

The city also will provide more treatment opportunities in high-overdose areas and more education about substance use disorder.

These actions are part of the new mayor’s long-term efforts to create a safer and more engaging environment downtown. The executive order authorizes Lund to form a work group that will look for ways to support “business and economic development, arts and cultural initiatives, new housing and other ways to promote community solutions and bring people downtown.”

“Many people are working very hard to support and improve Bellingham’s downtown, and there are a lot of good and exciting things happening that we are eager to build upon,” Lund said in a prepared statement. “We don’t want the fentanyl crisis and its effects to define our downtown and our wonderful community.”

Ralph Schwartz is CDN’s local government reporter; reach him at ralphschwartz@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 107.

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