The Santa Monica Fire Department Monday announced the launch of an emergency unit that will provide alternative responses to 911 calls.

The Community Response Unit (CRU) will be an ambulance staffed by two firefighters who have received specialized training in mental health emergencies, crisis communications, de-escalation and substance use disorders in order to “better address the needs of vulnerable populations in Santa Monica, including people experiencing homelessness,” according to an SMFD statement.

Among the CRU’s distinctions from a regular paramedic unit is the ability to thoroughly assess people experiencing behavior health crises and take them to a psychiatric urgent care center.

“A standard paramedic fire engine and ambulance is designed to quickly assess, treat and transport patients to hospital emergency rooms and then be ready for the next emergency,” according to the SMFD. “However, when a 911 call is less urgent and the solution is not necessarily the emergency room, the CRU goes to work and has the latitude to spend more time on scene to help connect those in need with more appropriate resources.”

The unit will work with other city departments, regional agencies and nonprofit organizations to help bridge the gap for housing and other support services. Additionally, the CRU will keep other SMFD units and emergency room resources available for other incidents.

The CRU will be in service Monday through Thursday during peak hours, according to an SMFD statement.

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