City Desk

Deputy Mayor on Death of Medric Mills: “A Total Disregard for Human Life”

At the end of the five-hour meeting, all parties could agree on one thing: A complete failure of the system contributed to the tragic death of Medric Mills, the elderly man who collapsed across the street from a fire station in January on Rhode Island Avenue NE and died of a heart attack after none of the nearby rescue workers came to help him.

What wasn't so clear, however, was whether the failure of the firefighters was an isolated incident or if such problems are wider spread within D.C. Fire and EMS.

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, led the hearing, and heard testimony from families who say their loved ones died after emergency personnel failed to come to their aid. (Muriel Bowser was the only other councilmember who made an appearance at the hearing.)

"These blunders by the fire department have been going on for years, they've proven that they've been unable to address their shortcomings internally," Mills' son, Medric Mills III, said during his testimony.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander Jr. oversaw an investigation into Mills' death, which last week determined that the five firefighters in the station that did nothing while Mills suffered a heart attack outside should be disciplined. The firefighters broke protocol by not helping Mills when someone came to the fire station door to tell them of his collapse. There is no rules on the books, Quander said at the hearing, that would have prevented them from helping Mills without being dispatched. The investigation also revealed that dispatchers initially sent emergency personnel to the wrong address, further delaying the time it took to get responders to the scene of the incident.

Quander testified that this incident is not reflective of the entire department.

"There appeared to be apathy and total disregard for human life," Quander said. "This has nothing to do with policy and procedure, this has to do with human character."

When Wells questioned why, if this was an isolated incident, all five of the fire fighters opted to do nothing to help Mills, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said it was a failure of leadership, and if the lieutenant is out of order, the rank and file would follow suit. The lieutenant in charge has  been put on desk duty and will have an internal hearing next week.

"I think leadership in the fire station begins with the company's officer," Ellerbe said. Ellerbe indicated at the hearing that he does not think there needs to be a major overhaul of the rules that govern the fire department. Instead, he said, the fire fighters need to follow the existing rules and those that don't should be disciplined. "The outcome of the disciplinary process sometimes tends to encourage folks to pay attention to rules and regulations," he said. "I believe in the disciplinary process."

Photo courtesy of The Cochran Firm

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  • Corky

    You can have all the rules you want, but if you have trifling, "I'm just here to get a paycheck" and "it's not my job description" type of worthless employees, then these tragedies will continue. The firefighters who turned a blind eye to a man dying across the street are simply worthless human beings who should never be any where near a profession that is supposed to be about saving lives. If they had any decency, they would quit before they are fired.

  • Inside looking in

    The report was written by one Gray appointee to protect the actions of another Gray appointee and shift the blame onto labor. Witness P.Quander's assertion that having company officers in the same union as firefighters was a causal issue. However, deference to the Lieutenant *was* a causal issue and would only be exacerbated by union separation.

    If the bell rings, firefighters go. They listen to 400 dispatches a day that they *don't* go on, but are aware of.

    No one but the Lieutenant refused to act.

  • Corky

    Inside looking in just made my point. 5 firefighters in the building and he claims only one refused to act. Just trifling!! Sorrt, you are not going to win that argument with that union nonsense. No one wants to hear about a first responder not saving someone's life based upon some internal bureacratic BS.

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  • lmahoney

    Speaking as a firefighter trainee going through the official NIMS and ICS training, I have to mention that there is a heavy emphasis in training on not self dispatching to incidents or freelancing in general. Still, what does that weigh against a human life, especially when all the firefighters had to do was cross the street. I think the firefighters erred and have failed to fulfill their duty.