Prince George's County Fire Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki said yesterday that he intends to fire two emergency medical services workers and to punish three others for their role in a July 18 case in which a heart attack victim had to wait 25 minutes for an ambulance.
Siarnicki said the five employees, two paramedics and three communications dispatchers, were responsible for a "cascade" of errors surrounding the death of a 44-year-old Croom man.
Siarnicki declined to identify the workers, citing departmental personnel rules and the employees' right to appeal his decision. About the disciplinary actions, he would say only that two employees face termination and that the others face fines or suspensions.
The incident began about 12:30 a.m. July 18 when a woman from Croom--a rural crossroads south of Upper Marlboro--called 911 to report that her husband had collapsed and couldn't breathe, fire officials said.
Dispatchers made the first error by telling an ambulance crew that the call was for "a sick person" and, therefore, not urgent, fire officials said. Partly as a result, the ambulance took 25 minutes to show up.
Matters worsened when the ambulance arrived at the house and the crew, realizing the man was suffering from a heart attack, asked dispatchers to send a paramedic crew.
But the nearest paramedics, based in Upper Marlboro, said they could not respond because of equipment problems. Dispatchers summoned a crew from Clinton, about 10 miles from Croom, resulting in an additional delay of 20 minutes, according to fire officials.
"It was a general system failure," Siarnicki said in an interview yesterday. "I'm not going to hide that. That happened. Would it have made a difference with this gentleman? We'll never know that. There's no way to know."
The man was taken to Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, where he was pronounced dead. Fire officials declined to identify the man or his address, saying that the family wished to remain anonymous and that the department was concerned about the possibility of a lawsuit.
Siarnicki said his decision to punish the workers was based on recommendations made by an internal disciplinary review board. After a Sept. 16 hearing, the board found the five employees guilty of a total of 10 workplace violations. Fire officials declined to disclose the actual violations.
Annette DeCesaris, a Bowie lawyer representing the dead man's family, did not return phone calls yesterday.