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PGFD union demands release of internal report into firefighter’s shooting death

PGFD chief says only summary will be released - Union calls report handling 'shameful'

The Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association responds to the Prince George's County…

Posted by Prince George's County Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association on Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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Read NIOSH report into PGFD LODD

A day after the publication of the NIOSH investigation into the shooting death of Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Lieutenant John “Skillet” Ulmschneider and wounding of Firefighter Kevin Swain, there’s a demand for the release of an internal report about the incident. In a letter (above) to PGFD Chief Benjamin Barksdale, IAFF Local 1619 President Andy Pantelis says the union was informed the department is not planning to release the Safety Investigative Team (SIT) report completed “several months ago” and that a “censored and redacted summary of the report will be provided instead.”

In an inter-office memorandum Wednesday (below) provided by PGFD, Chief Barksdale confirms plans to publish only a summary of the SIT report. That summary is expected to be available in December. Chief Barksdale writes to the department that the “release of these reports are hard for many to relive and discuss” but he is “committed to improving policy and processes that keep all safe.”

PGFD Lieutenant John “Skillet” Ulmschneider

Pantelis points out that a SIT report has never previously been withheld by the department and that doing so dishonors the sacrifice of the two firefighters:

Pantelis believes the handling of both reports by PGFD is “shameful”:

Pantelis tells Chief Barksdale that the union’s official request for the report has been “unreasonably denied” under the Maryland Public Information Act. He writes the union is prepared to file suit in order to compel the release of the report.

So far, Chief Barksdale’s memorandum to the department is the only official public response to the allegations made by Andy Pantelis.

The shootings occurred on April 15, 2016 when PGFD responded to a check on the welfare of a citizen call on Sharon Road.

Here is the executive summary to the NIOSH report (read entire report):

On April 15, 2016, a 37-year-old male career fire fighter/paramedic was killed and a 19-year-old male volunteer fire fighter was seriously wounded when they were shot after a combination fire department was dispatched for a check on the welfare of a citizen. The fire fighters were on the front porch attempting to gain entry into the single family dwelling when they were shot by the resident. At approximately 1930 hours, the county 911 center received a call from a civilian who reported that he was outside of his brother’s house and his brother was not answering his phone calls or knocks on the front door. The caller reported that he had spoken with his brother earlier in the day and that his brother’s vehicle was parked in the driveway in front of his house. He further stated that his brother had known medical issues. He requested assistance in gaining entry into his brother’s house. Rescue Engine 827 with six volunteer fire fighters and Paramedic Ambulance 823 with two career fire fighter/paramedics were dispatched at 19:35 hours. After arriving on scene, the fire fighters met the homeowner’s brother in the driveway and observed that all visible windows were covered. The fire fighters knocked on the front door, announced their presence several times and checked for an open door, however they did not perform a 360-degree walk around. After again announcing their presence, the fire fighters began to force open the front doors. Forcing both doors took 5-8 minutes with multiple strikes from three fire fighters using a halogen tool, axe and a sledge. The fire fighters forced the metal outer door but had trouble forcing the inner wooden door and ended up knocking a lower panel out of the wooden door and reaching through the hole to open the door from the inside. Four fire fighters, two medics and the homeowner’s brother were standing on the small front porch and the steps in front of the door. As the door was opened the homeowner’s brother entered. The homeowner fired a pistol multiple times through the open doorway striking his brother, the fire fighter/paramedic and a volunteer fire fighter.

The fire fighters and the civilian all tried to escape from the front porch area (see cover photo) and ran to take cover behind the apparatus in the street. The career fire fighter/paramedic who was shot, ran to Paramedic Ambulance 823 and collapsed at the unit. He was transported in Paramedic Ambulance 823 to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The volunteer fire fighter who was shot ran to Rescue Engine 827 where he was driven to a safe area, transferred to a medic unit, and then transported by air ambulance to a local trauma center. The homeowner’s brother was taken by police to the off-site command post and later transported by ambulance to a local hospital. Two other volunteer fire fighters suffered minor injuries (not gunshot-related) during their escape from the porch and were treated and released.

Contributing Factors

  • Police were not on scene at time door was forced open
  • Fire Fighter Identification (lack of standardized station uniform) and time of evening
  • Lack of communication of important information to responders (presence of firearms in residence)
  • Resident did not acknowledge multiple attempts by fire department to contact him verbally and by knocking on front door
  • Fire fighters/paramedics not wearing ballistic vests or personal protective equipment.

Key Recommendations

  • Fire, EMS, police departments, and dispatch agencies should ensure that police are the primary agency initially assigned to “check on the welfare” of occupants and that information regarding weapons in a residence are communicated to all of the responding agencies

  • Fire and EMS departments should implement standard operating procedures requiring fire fighters and EMS providers to present themselves in uniforms that readily identify them to be emergency responders

  • Fire, EMS, police departments and dispatch agencies should ensure important responder safety information is requested during the call taking process and that information is transferred into the dispatch system and provided to first responders.

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