The interim fire chief in the nation’s capital says he’s frustrated that he can’t issue stronger disciplinary sanctions against three firefighters who didn’t help a dying man across the street from a fire station.
Interim D.C. Fire Chief Eugene Jones said Thursday that he “has begrudgingly accepted” the discipline recommended by trial boards for three firefighters. One was suspended, one was reprimanded and one was found not guilty. The chief can only accept or reduce disciplinary actions.
Medric Cecil Mills Jr. went into cardiac arrest across from a fire station on Jan. 25. According to an internal report, five firefighters inside the station were aware that someone needed help, but none provided any aid. A police officer flagged down an ambulance, and Mills later died at a hospital.
The interim D.C. fire chief has “begrudgingly accepted” the recommendations of a trial board on firefighters who didn’t help a 77-year-old man who lay dying across the street from a D.C. firehouse — but he says the punishments don’t go far enough.
Medric Mills collapsed in a parking lot in January at the Brentwood Shopping Center, directly across the street from D.C. Fire Department Engine 26 in Northeast D.C. His daughter and several passersby pleaded for help, but they were told to call 911 instead.
“I ran to the curb and I was like, ‘Please can you help my father. Please, please, please,'” said his daughter Maria Mills. “And I said, ‘Are you just going to stand there and do nothing and let my dad die?'”
The firefighter said he had to check with his lieutenant. When he returned, he said he was told he could not respond.
The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has now issued the final agency decisions for the firefighters who didn’t help Mills, based on the recommendations made by a fire trial board.
In separate hearings in June, the board recommended an official reprimand of one firefighter, suspended another, and found a third not guilty.
On Thursday, interim D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Eugene A. Jones said the punishments are not severe enough, but he was unable to increase the penalties due to a collective bargaining agreement.
“The disciplinary actions recommended are not severe enough,” Jones said. “It’s completely unacceptable for these firefighters to not respond to a request for emergency medical services. Unfortunately, our disciplinary process does not offer the Fire Chief any latitude to render discipline autonomously.”
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the chief does not have the authority to strengthen a proposed penalty from a fire trial board, but can only approve or reduce a proposed penalty or dismiss a case.
The fire lieutenant who was in charge that day was granted retirement earlier this year, before a trial board could recommend a punishment.
The discipline decisions involved the three other firefighters who were in the station on the day Mills died of a heart attack.
Complicating matters in Mills’ care, a 911 dispatcher dispatcher mistakenly sent a first ambulance to an address in Northwest D.C. instead of Northeast.
Four employees at D.C.’s 911 call center were disciplined.