A Fire Chief Remains Hopeful in the Fight Against Her City's Opioid Epidemic

Jan Rader, fire chief in Huntington, West Virginia, the town known as the "Overdose Capital of America," relies on faith and prayer to remain positive in the face of the opioid epidemic that has ravaged her town and the country.

Read Jan's inspiring cover story from the February 2018 issue of Guideposts magazine!

Hi Guideposts. I'm Jan Rader, fire chief in Huntington, West Virginia, and I've been a first responder for 23 years.

I actually was working as an assistant manager in a jewelry store in a mall, and a lady collapsed right in the doorway of the store, and I didn't even know CPR. So I called 9-1-1 and waited, and the fire department showed up and there was a woman who was with them. They were actually able to save the lady, and it was the first time I realized that being a firefighter was something that a woman could do.

Once I became a firefighter, I really was interested in the medical side as well, so I became a paramedic; I did that on the side.

Opioid addiction, or substance use disorder, is a country-wide problem. In 2016, it killed 64,000 people, and that's more than died during the Vietnam War. 

We try to stay as positive as we can in this area, and we focus our attention on the small successes here. We have a lot of people in the community diligently on this problem, helping firefighters and everybody who's working to combat this epidemic.

Naloxone is a drug that we can administer, so by administering Narcan (brand name for Naloxone) over and over again, we are keeping people alive until they can seek treatment. We actually deal with people that have gone into longterm recovery daily, and they are healthy, happy, tax-paying citizens again. It's wonderful to see. You know, it takes about three years for the brain to heal completely from substance use disorder, but people do recover and they can recover and they are amazing people.

We take an oath to save life and property, and nowhere in that oath does it say we have the right to judge. We don't know back stories of people, and when you learn them, it's devastating and you wonder why some have resiliency and some do not.

I keep a lot of people that I meet on the street and I deal with on a daily basis in my prayers, because I believe in the power of prayer. Several people have contacted me after they have recovered to thank me, and it really makes you feel good about what you're doing. I feel like I'm ethically and morally doing the right thing and that I was chosen to do what I'm doing and I see too many good things coming out of this, so it's easy to stay positive in that respect.

I have a lot of hope because I think that there's more good than bad in this world, and we have the power to overcome this and be a better, stronger community and a better and stronger country.

View Transcript
View Comments

Video Library

Check out our collection of Guideposts videos and find exclusive celebrity interviews, inspirational stories of hope, and practical life advice.

Eric Motley, executive vice-president of the Aspen Institute

Eric Motley on the Blessings of Growing Up in a Small Town

Jan Rader, fire chief in Huntington, West Virginia

A Fire Chief Remains Hopeful in the Fight Against Her City's Opioid Epidemic

Rodney Smith, Jr.

Rodney Smith Jr. on Making a Difference One Lawn at a Time

Kelee Katillac and Colette Gauthier

Miracle Makeover: Colette's Home