D.C. public safety officials will be asked Monday to account for several high-profile failures of the city’s emergency response system, including the death of a man who collapsed across the street from a fire station and was refused aid.
The Monday hearing, led by D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, comes on the heels of the release of a report that puts the blame for the latest failed response on both the trained medical personnel inside the fire station who did not come to the aid of the man as well as on emergency dispatchers, who after receiving calls about the incident sent responders to an address in the wrong quadrant of the city.
The 13-page report issued Friday by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul A. Quander Jr. states there were “substantial lapses in judgment and the failure to adhere to established policy and procedures” and highlights the step-by-step mistakes that led to the failed response.
It also states that five D.C. firefighters and four emergency dispatchers could face discipline over the poor handling of the incident.
Mr. Quander is expected to testify at the hearing before Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and candidate for mayor, as are the family members of four people who say their loved ones died after receiving botched care from D.C. emergency responders.
In the latest case, Medric Cecil Mills Jr., 77, died last month of a heart attack after collapsing at a shopping center across the street from Engine 26 in Northeast in an incident that drew national headlines. Bystanders and family members ran across the street begging for help at the fire station, but ultimately none of the five firefighters stationed there came to Mills’ aid.
“All five employees were aware of a medical issue in which assistance was requested; however, none took any action to provide assistance,” the report states.
A probationary firefighter, who had been on the job less than a year, was the first to talk to a civilian who reported Mills was injured across the street, according to the report. He requested twice over a public address system that the station’s lieutenant come to the watch desk for an “urgent matter.” Three other firefighters in the station heard the requests. One questioned the probationary firefighter about what was going on, but said the lieutenant would have to be informed. That firefighter went to the lieutenant’s bunkroom and told her about the incident, but then went to his own bunk to study for a promotional exam.
It was later found that the speakers in the room where the lieutenant was had been turned off, in violation of department protocol.
The lieutenant later came to look for the firefighter who informed her of the incident, and he told her an ambulance had since been dispatched to the scene.
None of the five firefighters at Engine 26 provided aide to Mills.
“That’s beyond apathy, that’s something more,” Mr. Quander said of the lack of action, acknowledging the problem was beyond a disregard for department policy.
“This has nothing to do with policy or procedure. This is individuals who knew there was a need to act and chose to do nothing,” he said.
When asked how the department should handle others who might be lacking the character needed for the job, Mr. Quander said, “We can identify who those individuals are and make sure they no longer work for the District of Columbia government.”
The five firefighters involved will face trial boards to determine discipline, which could include dismissal.
The lieutenant involved in the case, 28-year department veteran Kellene L. Davis, has since filed for retirement. Mr. Quander said in the case of a pending retirement a trial board could hand down discipline that includes a reduction in rank and as a result affects retirement benefits.
But fault also lies with the Office of Unified Communications call takers and dispatchers, who received a series of calls reporting the incident and failed to ascertain the correct address of the emergency, the report states. The call taker entered the address as 1309 Rhode Island Avenue Northwest instead of Northeast — locations that are about 3 miles apart.
The call taker realized the mistake and took actions to correct it, but dispatchers did not notice the corrections made to the original entry and deleted follow-up reports sending units to the correct address, believing they were duplicates of the original call, the report states.
The four dispatch employees remain on the job but have been recommended for discipline.