LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Recent additions to La Crosse are taking some heat off of the La Crosse Fire Department.
The task of getting rid of discarded needles falls on the department, and its number of pick-ups for one or more needles jumped from 251 in 2015 to 423 in 2016.
To combat discarded needles, the La Crosse County Health Department installed two sharps drop-off boxes in late April.
The goal was to provide a safe place for all kinds of needles, medical and drug alike, and to lighten the burden on the Fire Department.
"We don't want those needles in the community,” La Crosse County Health Director Jen Rombalski said.
Since their installation in late April, the two needle drop-off boxes, one in downtown La Crosse and one on the north side, have collected about 400 pounds of needles.
That translates to a total of about 53,000 individual needles.
"The important thing is those are not needles sitting in homes or streets, those are needles that are properly collected and disposed of,” Rombalski said.
There are still needles, however, not making it to the containers.
"It's out in our neighborhoods,” Fire Chief Ken Gilliam said.
Gilliam said the department keeps track of a needle pickup just like they would a house fire.
"La Crosse Fire is very data-driven,” he said.
Statistically, it's a bit early to tell how big an impact the sharps boxes may have made on needle pickup calls, but Gilliam said the containers have taken some heat off the department.
"It's saving taxing the Fire Department resources for other calls we could be on,” he said.
The Fire Department's data provides a sharper perspective on where the most frequent calls are coming from, which helps the county determine where needle drop-off boxes might be most useful.
"We just want to track those and see if we can make a difference, tweaking what's going on now to increase the number of needles collected even more and hopefully decrease the number the fire department's going out to grab,” Rombalski said.
According to Rombalski, the needle disposal box on the north side near the boat landing gets more use than the King Street box.
The County Health Department is currently analyzing data and mapping out needle pickup information from the Fire Department to determine whether to relocate the downtown container or add a third one somewhere in the city.
So far this year, the La Crosse Fire Department has been on about 328 needle pickup calls.
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