Picture it: You and your father are running errands in Washington, D.C. on a Saturday afternoon when suddenly, Dad collapses.
He’s having a heart attack.
Panicked, you run back into the store and ask the owner to call 911. As he dials, several patrons run outside looking for help. They spot a fire department directly across the street.
But when the Good Samaritans approach, the firefighter who comes to the door tells them he can’t assist until a 911 dispatcher officially dispenses him to the case. The station’s lieutenant agrees, saying that it’s a matter of “protocol and procedure” and goes about his business.
Meanwhile your father is on the ground, gasping for air, and at least five ready-and-able firefighters and EMTs – people who have been specially trained to respond to medical situations just like these – refuse to leave the firehouse and help.
Finally the concerned citizens are able to flag down an ambulance that just so happened to be passing by –ironically the one that had been dispatched went to the wrong location due to a 911 call dispatch error –but dad had been left too long without the medical care he needed.
He dies soon after arriving at the hospital.
Marie Mills is so hurt by the way she claims that D.C. Fire Engine House 26 handled the situation with her father, Medric Cecil Mills, on January 25th that she has trouble speaking through her tears.
She says her devastation over the loss of the 77-year-old Parks and Recreation employee, Shriner, Mason and all-around role model is immeasurable.
“He was my best friend … the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back,” she cries. “He was married to my mom for 55 years and an excellent grandfather.”
She’s convinced that if the firefighters had performed CPR on her dad, the patriarch of her family would still be alive.
“They knew there was a man in need of emergency medical care and they were all trained to deliver it,” she says incredulously. “They had all the apparatuses necessary to provide the help he needed yet refused to come.”
Mills claims that the fire department’s actions were grossly negligent is supported by the 911 audio and internal report released February 21 by the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice as a result of a city investigation into the matter.
She says that the city's report, which led to a disciplinary hearing March 19th for the fire department lieutenant who retired with full benefits before the trial board could issue its findings— reveals just how badly the personnel involved actually screwed up.
The results of that report include:
•The firefighter working at the fire station’s watch desk placed two calls over the station’s Public Announcement (PA) system when he learned that Mills was suffering a medical emergency directly across the street from the fire station.
• The Lieutenant firefighter in who supervised the fire station failed to respond to both public announcements, which indicated “[t] here’s a man across the street that needs help.”
• The firefighter working at the watch desk told a second firefighter about Mills’ medical emergency across the street from the fire station. In response, the second firefighter stated that they were not dispatched to the call.
• The second firefighter informed the Lieutenant what was happening. The Lieutenant asked for the exact address of the incident. The second firefighter did not obtain the exact address. Instead, the second firefighter subsequently gathered personal items and books from his car and went to his bunkroom to study while lying down in his bed.
• When the Lieutenant found the second firefighter studying a book lying down on his bed, the second firefighter stated that an ambulance had been dispatched to the scene but went to the wrong address, “but he thought it was alright since [the 911 dispatcher] had finally dispatched [the ambulance] to the correct address.”
• None of the five D.C. Fire and EMS employees in the fire station provided medical care to Mr. Mills when he suffered a fatal heart attack directly across the street from the fire station.
• The lieutenant in charge of the fire station did not update the fire station’s journal to reflect that citizens came to the station to report the incident or request medical assistance. The lieutenant also failed to inform her superior, the Battalion Fire Chief, of the incident. The Battalion Fire Chief only learned of the tragedy when EMS workers responding to the scene notified him.
• The fire station’s vocal alarm system was manually turned off and not functioning in the main bunkroom.
•The 911 call taker who answered the initial call failed to ask for a quadrant and improperly entered “NW” as the quadrant.
• The 911 call reveals that the caller immediately told the 911 call taker that the incident occurred in the Northeast quadrant.
To add insult to injury, Mills’ lawyer, Karen Evans, points out that the reason the firefighters gave for not helping Mills’ father—because they had not received an 911 call— was not official D.C. “protocol” after all.
"One of the most tragic pieces of this is that we have been told since this event by the mayor, by the deputy mayor and by the fire chief that there is no policy in place that would prohibit those five firefighters in the station from coming across the street to help,” she says. “Yet the firefighters felt that they needed to be dispatched in order to render help when someone came to the door. So from our perspective, legally, in terms of what we would like to see done, we would like to have the law changed. We would like to have a law enacted that would obligate the firefighters to offer help to anyone who approaches their doors for emergency medical help,” she explains. “It seems like a basic function for firefighters and EMS but there should be law so there’s no confusion.”
Because there is a law called the Public Duty Doctrine which makes it difficult for D.C. residents and visitors to successfully sue the city in cases of gross negligence involving its fire and EMS services, the Mills family has been trying to work with the city to bring to justice the remaining emergency personnel – all of whom received a 10 percent pay increase and new contracts in the aftermath of the incident – but their patience is quickly running out.
The next wave of disciplinary hearings— which will likely be closed to the public—-are scheduled to begin May 12.
“Where is the humanity?” says Evans, who says the Mills family wants the emergency personnel involved fired. “How do you portray yourself as someone who can help in a medical emergency and you don’t go across the street? I used to be an Air Force nurse,” explains the attorney. “I still get out of my car to this day if I come upon a scene of an accident. It’s automatic. I run to see if I can help. I don’t understand it.”
For her part, Mills wants some degree of closure for her family’s compounded tragedy.
“I would like the city to hold those accountable who did not do their job,” she says. “I just want justice for my [dad].”