DC to discipline firefighters who ignored pleas for help

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(CNN) — Five Washington D.C. firefighters all heard that a man had fallen across the street from their firehouse and was in need of medical help, but none went to his aid, an internal report released Friday concludes.

The report recommends that all five — ranging from a probationary firefighter to a lieutenant — face disciplinary action along with four dispatchers who further botched the city’s response by sending an ambulance to the wrong part of the city.

The man, Medric Cecil Mills Jr., 77, a 47-year employee of the city’s parks department, later died at a hospital. His family said he had suffered a heart attack.

The lieutenant announced her retirement days after the incident.

The new report largely confirms a troubling account by Mills’ daughter, who said her father collapsed as they left a computer store January 25.

Mills said passersby shouted and went to Engine House 26 seeking help, but that no one responded.

The firehouse is across a wide avenue from the parking lot where Mills collapsed.

The report detailed miscommunication and an apparent disregard by those at the station.

An internal speaker system in the firehouse, which could have helped spread the word, was turned off, it said.

According to the report, word first arrived at the firehouse when a resident came to the station’s front door. The probationary officer said the person said he witnessed a man near the liquor store across the street slip on ice. The individual was passed out and in need of help, the probationary firefighter said he was told.

The firefighters called the station lieutenant on a public address system, asking her to come to the watch desk. He then opened the apparatus doors, only to discover a car in the driveway, with the driver stating that “there’s a man across the street that needs help.”

The firefighter made a second call on the public address system, asking the lieutenant and stating it was urgent, the report said.

Of three firefighters sitting in the kitchen, one went to see the probationary officer. After telling the probationary officer that they had not been dispatched, the senior firefighter went to find the lieutenant, told her about the call, and told her what he believed the address to be.

The lieutenant later told investigators that she asked the firefighter for an exact address and that he did not return with one.

The firefighter said he returned to the kitchen, told his fellow firefighters that he had informed the lieutenant, and then gathered study books from his car and went to the bunk room.

When the lieutenant tracked down the firefighter in the bunk room, the firefighter said he understood that an ambulance had been originally dispatched to the wrong address, but “he thought it was alright since (the communications center) had finally dispatched” an engine to the correct address.

The lieutenant told investigators she then went outside to see what was happening, and saw police officers and ambulances at the scene.

The report said it was undetermined whether the lieutenant failed to respond to the public address system calls because the speakers had been turned off, but said “under no circumstances should the PA speakers (have) been turned off or disabled prior to 10:00 p.m.”

The fire department’s response was further delayed because of confusion over a 911 call, the report said.

A call-taker initially dispatched the ambulance to the wrong quadrant of the city, quickly correcting the mistake when checking it with the caller. But other dispatchers failed to see the correction, and the ambulance was sent to the wrong address.

The report recommended that all five firefighters and four dispatchers face discipline, but did not identify them or specify the punishment, which could range from reprimands to dismissal.

The city said it was taking a number of steps to prevent another incident.

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN

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