D.C. Fire Chief Theodore R. Coleman said yesterday that an investigation is under way to determine why the department can find no record of when a firefighter who died of a cerebral hemorrhage after a water rescue training exercise had his last physical examination.
Coleman also said that he has temporarily halted the training program until after Clifford R. Oliver, 42, who died Tuesday, is buried. He said that the move was not prompted by the questions surrounding Oliver's death, but out of compassion for the firefighter's family.
Although a doctor involved in the case said he does not think Oliver's hemorrhage could have been predicted through a physical examination, Coleman said, the lack of records about Oliver's health has sparked a review of the department's examination system.
Members of the department who are between the ages of 35 and 54 are required to undergo a physical examination every two years, Coleman said. Oliver, a 20-year member of the department, was to have undergone a physical exam in May, but Coleman said there are no records to indicate he was examined. He also said he did not know the date of Oliver's last physical.
Asked about the possibility that other firefighters had not had the necessary physical examinations, Coleman said, "We're going to take a look at the system."
After completing 20 laps and retrieving a 10-pound brick in a D.C. Department of Recreation pool Monday, Oliver complained of dizziness and a headache. He collapsed while showering during a lunch break and stopped breathing.
He was resuscitated at the scene and taken to Capitol Hill Hospital, where it was determined that he had suffered a massive and spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage caused by arterial bleeding, according to Dr. Morris Jutcovich in the hospital's intensive care unit.
After four hours of surgery, Oliver's condition stabilized. Later, however, it deteriorated and Tuesday afternoon doctors determined that no blood was flowing to his brain. The D.C. medical examiner's office said the hemorrhage was the cause of death and that there were no other injuries or trauma.
Jutcovich said yesterday that he saw no evidence the swimming exercise caused Oliver's hemorrhage and that it would be low on the list of possible causes. He said it was a spontaneous and "rather rare" occurrence that could not have been predicted through a physical exam.
"There is no way something like that could be predicted in advance," he said.
Jutcovich said that fire department officials took Oliver's file to him and that the last record of a physical examination was made 11 years ago.
Oliver, who was a rescue squad driver, repeatedly asked officials to exempt him from the rescue training. He felt that because of his job his chances of having to use the training were "remote," according to a firefighter who worked with Oliver last weekend. Oliver was expected to retire in May.
Coleman yesterday deflected questions about the reasons for Oliver's being ordered to participate in the training. His death, Capt. T.O. Holmes said during the news conference, could evolve into litigation.
Coleman said firefighters are entered into the five-day training program based on selections made by company commanders and approved by the assistant fire chief. Firefighters are not required to undergo a physical exam before they begin the water rescue training, he said.