A newly hired D.C. firefighter who failed to help a dying man last month was properly trained, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety said Friday, countering the cadet’s assertion he didn’t know what to do when people sought help at his fire station.
The deputy mayor, Paul A. Quander Jr., said the rookie — along with others in the station that day — should have known he could have responded. “He may have been under extreme pressure when things were happening,” Quander said.
The mistreatment of 77-year-old Medric Cecil Mills Jr. has become the latest incident to dog a fire department reeling from a year of missteps over getting help quickly to patients. It has raised questions over training and prompted critics, including the firefighters union and two council members, to label the department an institutional failure while calling for the ouster of Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe. The deputy mayor puts the blame on five firefighters with Truck 15, calling Mills’s death a failure of individual moral character.
Quander said that if the cadet, 19-year-old Remy Jones, was, indeed, ignorant about what was expected of him, it means the lieutenant in charge of the firehouse failed her duties as well. He said cadets are on probation for 18 months because they need be able to handle life-and-death emergencies “without thinking, but knowing what to do when the pressure comes.”
Jones, who was at the station’s watch desk Jan. 25, turned away at least two bystanders who sought help for Mills when he collapsed from a heart attack across the street from a fire station on Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast Washington. Mills died at a hospital.
A report issued last week by the fire department said Jones told people that he could not respond until someone called 911. The report said he twice requested help from the lieutenant in charge, but she did not respond to announcements made over the intercom. Jones did tell another firefighter, who passed the request on to the lieutenant, but no effort was made to respond, the report said. Instead, a firefighter retired to his bunk to study for a promotional exam, the report concluded.
Compounding the mistakes, a fire engine and ambulance that were eventually dispatched were sent to the wrong address, in Northwest Washington instead of Northeast. A 911 tape indicates a caller correcting an operator, but her note never got through to the dispatcher. Mills got help only after a D.C. police officer flagged down a passing ambulance.
Jones told internal investigators that he had never been trained how to respond when someone approaches the station seeking help, and that he was afraid to leave his post because he did not want to get into trouble. He said he did not ring the station alarm bell because he mistakenly thought that could only be done at night.
Karen Evans, an attorney for the Mills family, said she is troubled by the new information. “If you’re working at a watch desk, it is patently obvious that you should know how to respond when a member of the public approaches your fire station requesting urgent medical assistance,” she said.
Jones’s defense is contained in a confidential Internal Affairs file that was prepared by fire department investigators for disciplinary hearings, the first of which is scheduled for March 17 for Lt. Kellene Davis, who was the lieutenant in charge that day.
It is separate from the shorter report the District made public last week and contains additional details, such as statements from Jones and others. Part of that 130-page report was obtained by WTTG (Fox 5), which shared excerpts with The Washington Post. The Post verified that the excerpts were authentic.
Davis has not been reached for comment. Jones, reached by phone Thursday night, referred questions to the fire department’s internal affairs unit, saying he would “get in trouble” if he spoke about his actions. He also criticized The Post for continuing to report on the incident.
“Every day is a new day,” he said. “I don’t understand why there is public interest in this. Why haven’t you found a new story?” He said that he has become “emotionally disturbed” because of the media’s calls and visits to his family’s home. “I am a firefighter,” he said. “I have duties.”
Quander, the deputy mayor, attributed Jones’s comments to his youth and inexperience. “Do I wish he had chosen his words differently?” he said. “Of course. The reason this is important is that a man died and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do to help.”
The Washington Post previously reported that Jones, who graduated in November with his cadet class, ran into problems at the training academy. Two supervisors documented his poor attitude and disrespect for fellow cadets and the chain of command, according to internal reports obtained by The Post.
The cadet program has become a key initiative during Ellerbe’s three-year tenure. He resurrected and supported the program, which recruits recent graduates from D.C. high schools, after previous fire chief Dennis L. Rubin canceled it because of concerns about the quality of the candidates and the standards of their training.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), a mayoral candidate, and Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) have called for Ellerbe’s resignation.
Get updates on your area delivered via e-mail