When 77-year-old Medric Cecil Mills collapsed of a heart attack right in a parking lot across the street from a Northeast Washington fire station, yesterday, his daughter begged nearby on-duty firefighters for help. They refused saying the victim had to call 9-1-1 first.
According to reports by the Washington Post and WTTG Channel 5 News, three different rotations of people knocked on the firehouse door requesting help for the 77-year-old, and all of them were rebuffed by the firefighters who repeated to each of them that they couldn’t respond unless someone called 911. Nearly 20 minutes later, help finally arrived thanks D.C. police officer who flagged an ambulance down. Mills died on the way to the hospital.
“There are no words to describe how this city has failed,” his daughter told the Washington Post on Wednesday, prompting District authorities to investigate the 15 firefighters who are now being questioned for their lack of response during a time of emergency.
“I’m quite disturbed and disappointed by what appears to be an inapropriate response,” said Paul A. Quander Jr., the deputy mayor for public safety. Quander Jr., said that while full details of what transpired in the station are still under review, the basic facts are not in dispute, and are being taken very seriously. “[Fire fighers] don’t wait to be called…we should have responded to this incident.”
The story’s coverage has drawn widespread attention, prompting the D.C Mayor Vincent C. Gray to speak out, calling the event “really hard to accept.”
This marks the most recent in a string of incidents that have many asking for reforms of D.C.’s fire department. The Department’s chief, Kenneth B. Ellerbe, recently faced questions regarding a New Years Day 2013 incident in which a 71-year-old man died of a heart attack after nearly half-an-hour wait for an ambulance on a day when one-third of the firefighters on duty had called in sick.
Reforms were supposedly being implemented after the 2006 death of retired New York Times reporter and editor David E. Rosenbaum. He died after D.C. emergency personnel mistook the effects of injuries from a vicious mugging for public intoxication and labeled the incident low-priority.
Tim Wilson, a spokesman for the fire department, said that everyone assigned to Engine 26 and Truck 15 on the day of the incident is currently being questioned, and that at least one firefighter who refused to help was hired in the last year has not yet passed probation.
Authorities said that the fire truck dispatched from another station as a result of 911 calls made by bystadners went to a different address than the one given—an element of the case that is also under review. Engine 26, from the station in question, was out on a call at the time of the heart attack, but eventually responded. At the time of Mills’ collapsing, Truck 15 had been in the station, available.