More coverage today from WTTG-TV Fox 5 here & here
The DC Fire & EMS Department has been in the news almost constantly over the last few weeks and tonight is no exception. Channel 5 (WTTG-TV/Fox 5) in Washington assigned two different reporters today to look at the fallout from their story last night that resulted in DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe admitting information given to the City Council about the status of the reserve fleet was wrong. Along with Channel 7 (WJLA-TV/ABC 7), they are trying to get to the bottom of whether the Nation’s Capital has an adequate reserve fleet of fire trucks and ambulances.
The reporters had to get those answers without the help of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander. Instead, they were left to talk with Deputy Chief John Donnelly. Donnelly has taken over at the apapratus shop for Deputy Chief Wayne Branch. According to a statement from Chief Ellerbe last night, Branch decided to retire because of the screwup over the reserve fleet list and the concerns of excessive overtime at the shop.
Along the way today, reporter Paul Wagner uncovered another issue for the department. Just a dozen blocks from the U.S. Capitol building, Wagner pointed out unsecured apparatus parked all around the shop at Half Street and M Street Southwest. It’s a long standing practice, and while some precautions are taken, Wagner found a bunch of unlocked ambulances.
The readiness of the D.C. fire department’s fleet of reserve pumpers and trucks remains unclear after the chief admitted the numbers given to the City Council were wrong.
An investigation by the firefighters’ union found some apparatus listed as being in reserve had actually been sold by the city.
Late Wednesday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced the deputy chief in charge of fleet, Wayne Branch, had retired and a replacement had been named.
Chief Ellerbe did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday. Instead, a deputy chief addressed reporters’ questions about the current state of the fleet.
An investigation by the firefighters’ union found at least six pumpers and two ladder trucks listed as being in reserve had actually been sold. Some on the list had been out of service for years and still others unaccounted for.
In a press release issued Wednesday night, Chief Ellerbe said the numbers given to the City Council last month were from an “old fleet schedule.”
On Thursday, at the fleet maintenance shop in Southwest D.C., FOX 5 tried to contact Deputy Chief Branch to ask him why the inaccurate numbers were given to the council, but we were told he was not in his office.
Outside, the streets around the shop are filled with broken-down ladder trucks, pumpers and ambulances.
Some of them appear to have been stripped for parts.
One ladder truck on the street is on the list given to the council as being one in reserve and ready to take a front-line spot in any of the city’s firehouses.
The deputy chief now in command of the fleet says it will take some time to wrap his arms around the problem.
“What I can tell you is we have a reserve fleet,” said Deputy Chief John Donnelly in an interview Thursday. “We are going to get to the bottom of those numbers right away and we are going to make sure we have enough fire trucks on the road to meet the needs of the community.”
As of Wednesday night, the firefighters’ union said the fire department had no reserve ladder trucks and the one from Shaw was sent to Brightwood — leaving Shaw uncovered.
“I’m sorry,” said Donnelly. “I just don’t have that answer right this second. I’m sure if we needed a ladder truck, we would find a way to get one together and put it in service.”
The numbers given to the council back on February 20 also listed 106 EMS transport units. It is a number the firefighters’ union has not been able to confirm.
Deputy Chief Donnelly says he will spend the next few days completing an audit in hopes of coming up with an accurate number.
“I’m not going to spend a lot of time examining backward of who has done what or who hasn’t done what,” said Donnelly. “I’m going to fix it going forward and starting immediately.”
In the last two weeks, ambulances have been unavailable for a stroke victim who was instead transported to a hospital in a pumper and a D.C. police officer seriously injured in a hit-and-run, raising questions about the readiness of the EMS fleet.
FOX 5 also tried to contact the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander for comment on the readiness of the reserve fleet, but he did not return several email messages.
Branch was the first man to publicly take the fall for the ongoing issues within the D.C. fire department.
He testified before the D.C. Council last month about the readiness of emergency vehicles. Branch retired just five days later.
It turns out the number of units he told the council were ready and in service was inaccurate. Some have no doors. One had no compartment door for more than a year. One has been listed out-of-service since 2010. One has been in a scrapyard in Wisconsin for the past four years.
“When you see us struggling to do day to day operations, I can’t imagine a terrorist event or a natural disaster,” says Ed Smith, D.C. Firefighters Union president.
Smith is referring to multiple incidents where ambulances weren’t available.
Last Tuesday, a D.C. motorcycle officer waited in the street 20 minutes after suffering a broken leg during a hit and run. He was eventually picked up by a Prince George’s County ambulance.
But the fire department, and the man taking over for Branch, maintains it was all a miscommunication and the fleet is fine.
“We are going to make sure we have the resources that we need and if we don’t we are going to go find them and we are going to get all this stuff up here so we are ready to meet the needs,” says John Donnelly, incoming deputy fire chief.
Last nigth at 11:00 PM, WRC-TV/NBC 4 in Washington did another story about EMS problems in the Nation’s Capital. This one is about an engine company transporting a stroke victim to the hospital because no EMS transport units were available for a while yesterday evening. As we relayed to you yesterday, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has been quiet about the latest incident involving his department. That apparently will change at 2:00 this afternoon according to a notification sent out from the department’s communications director a short time ago:
Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters, 1923 Vermont Avenue, NW, to address concerns that have evolved regarding EMS response times.
District firefighters were forced to take a man suffering from a stroke to a hospital in a fire truck Thursday evening because the closest ambulance was seven miles away.
The incident comes just two days after an injured police officer waited almost 20 minutes for an ambulance.
Now, a top city leader is calling for immediate action, reported News4′s Shomari Stone.
The latest case involved a man in his 80s at a home in the 600 block of Atlantic Avenue SE. His wife called 911, saying the man was suffering from a stroke, said deputy fire chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos.
A fire engine staffed with paramedics responded to the scene within four minutes, and an ambulance was dispatched at the same time, Vlassopoulos told News4.
The closest ambulance, however, was coming from seven miles away — too far away to respond quickly in rush hour, Vlassopoulos said. A paramedic on the scene assessed the patient and decided he needed to go to a hospital immediately, so emergency personnel transported him in the fire truck.
This is the third time that an ambulance has been too far away to respond to a medical emergency in Southeast Washington this year.
District Councilman Tommy Wells told Stone that he would call a hearing into why it’s taking so long for some ambulances to respond in the Southeast part of the city. “We do not expect that there are any delays” in ambulance service, he said.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the delayed ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer is focusing on 10 ambulance units that were out of service at the time of the call. The man in charge of the investigation told News4 he’s trying to find out why the units were unavailable and why they were all out of service so close to the end of their shifts.
The initial calls for a pedestrian down came about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night — just 30 minutes before the shift change.
“I want to make sure that in fact no one took themselves out of service without the proper authorization and especially when it came time to ending their shift early,” Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Thirty-nine ambulance units were on duty at the time of the accident, Quander said, and some of the 10 that were out of service had legitimate reasons for not being able to respond to the call.
“One of the things I need to find out from this internal review is what happened to 10 of the units that were not available at that critical time,” Quander said. “Some of them may have been on runs to hospitals. Some of them may have been being cleaned. There are others I need to focus on to see whether or not they took themselves out of service without authorization.”
The officer, identified as Sean Hickman, was eventually transported by a Prince George’s County ambulance with life-threatening injuries. He suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and has had two surgeries so far.
His recovery will be long, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
“He’s pretty badly injured,” she said. “He underwent 7-8 hours of surgery the first night and he has additional surgeries today.”
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who has oversight of the fire department, called the delay “unacceptable” and launched his own inquiry.
Leslie Av house fire. Sad day – adult male & 2 kids pronounced at hospitals, pulse restored 1 child-critical, 1 child, 1 adult female stable
Picture from PGFD Chief Marc Bashoor.
Press release from PGFD’s Mark Brady:
Firefighters were alerted to a house fire with occupants trapped at around 4:00 am, Thursday, February 21.
Volunteer Firefighters from Kentland Station 833 were the first to arrive at a brick 1-story with basement single family home in the 8600 block of Leslie Avenue in Glenarden. Conditions on arrival included fire and heavy smoke showing. Kentland and other arriving firefighters initiated a search of the burning home and removed 1 adult male and 3 children: 5, 8 and 10 year old females. All four were not breathing and had no pulse. Firefighters started CPR on the victims and all were quickly transported by paramedics to area hospitals. 2 other occupants, an adult female and an 8 year old child, had escaped the fire before the fire departments arrival and sustained less serious injuries and have been transported to area hospitals.
The fire was knocked down within 30 minutes. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
The adult male and two of the children were pronounced deceased a short time after arriving at the hospital despite the very best efforts of everyone involved. One child had a pulse restored and is in the process of being transported to a hospital that specializes in the care and treatment of children.
As additional information becomes available this site will be updated.
Tonight the West Lanham fire chief is disputing the official account of what caused a crash that injured seven people in a Beltway crash, including four firefighters.
One of those men underwent hours of surgery to have his arm re-attached after the rollover crash.
Chief John Alter said he can’t stand by and watch his guys take the blame for something he says they didn’t do. One of their own was critically hurt in this accident but there is another black cloud hanging over this station.
West Lanham Hills VFD Chief John Alter.
Volunteer firefighter. Lt. Ryan Emmons, 30, continues to recover after his arm was severed early Wednesday morning during an accident involving his fire engine and a tractor trailer.
Instead of complete relief, Alter said there is great angst.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Prince George’s County Police released their preliminary findings on the accident which had the Beltway closed for hours, saying the fire engine was just leaving an accident call when it tried to make a U-turn at an emergency vehicle access point.
West Lanham Hills VFD Lt. Ryan Emmons.
Police say the engine collided with a tractor trailer, which sources say had the right of way. The two trucks slid into the median and hit a Jeep SUV. In all, seven people were hurt, including four firefighters.
Three of those firefighters have been released from an area hospital, County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said.
“We just believe that they were attempting to make a U-turn on 495,” says Lt. William Alexander, a PGPD spokesperson.
“Were they making a U-turn?” asks Alter. “No ma’am, they were not. They were slowing down for a call.”
Alter says his four firefighters were driving on the inner loop of the Beltway and just as they arrived at an accident call, which was on the opposite side, dispatch told them they weren’t needed.
Alter says his guys who had slowed down were about to continue forward on the inner loop and head home when he said the driver looked behind him and noticed a tractor trailer bearing down on him. He says the driver pushed on the gas to speed up.
“I credit the driver of the apparatus for saving my fellow firefighters’ lives,” Alter says.
Alter says the semi slammed right into the back of the engine. When showed a photo ABC7 obtained, the chief explained if the engine had been making a U-turn there would be damage on the driver’s side.
Alter says the engine driver, an Afghanistan war vet, was first to reach Emmons and he wrapped eEmmons’ arm in a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding.
Alter says the engine driver didn’t put lives at risk, he saved lives.
“We have a long recovery to go,” Alter says. “I can’t wait for this erroneous report to go away, so we can get back to serving the community.”
While I have called Scott Ziegler the hardest working firefighter in the U.S., representing a lot of hard working firefighters who are employed by underfunded, understaffed and overworked departments, he, at the moment, seems to be the most famous firefighter in our country.
What is great about this is that Scott is using this fame for good. As you will see above in his latest national platform, ABC’s World News Tonight, Scott is making sure the public understands their local fire department needs their support when budget time rolls around. And he throws in a fire safety message too.
Congratulations Scott. Above is the same video that has gone viral but without the music soundtrack. Scott alerted me last week that he posted the natural sound version for people like me who are old and enjoy it without the music. Thanks Scott.
I credit the YouTube clip above with inspiring me to come up with a term to describe what I witnessed in the video and many other times in recent years: Social Media Assisted Career Suicide Syndrome or SMACSS. This video involves a story that first surfaced last week when Prince George’s County (MD) Police Department Chief Mark Magaw announced in a press conference that the two officers appearing in the video ”could be fired”.
The short film is titled “Driving While Black” and is a satirical look at the issue of racial profiling during traffic stops. As Chief Magaw described, the video uses “demeaning language, racial slurs, and crude stereotypes.” The latest development surrounding the video is that the head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Bob Ross, does not believe the officers should be fired. Here’s what he told reporter Andrea Noble of The Washington Times:
“I would agree with a suspension rather than firing because they are young and immature,” Mr. Ross said. “If they had done that without the uniforms and without the police car, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. … It really was a good skit but when you have government employees doing it, it’s a different story.”
We likely won’t know whether these two officers end up losing their jobs until they get their day in court, or at least a trial board. Fraternal Order of Police President Vince Canales, who condemned the video during the chief’s press conference, told Noble, “These officers are entitled to due process and we are going to let the investigative process play out.”
But I have to ask this question: How can these officers really expect anything other than having to find alternative employment?
They used a real police car belonging to the department (likely a take home vehicle of one of the officers), real uniforms with the department’s patch and real department issued police equipment. They simulated traffic stops with lights and siren along public roads in public view as they appeared as actors in a video not sanctioned by the department. The video spoofs a real concern that police are having to deal with nationwide and one that has been a source of serious image problems for the officers’ own department for decades.
I ask again: How can anyone expect to hold onto their job after doing all that?
And I have another question. How did they think they were going to get away with it once the video was posted on YouTube or distributed by other means?
I think I already know the answer to question two. All rational thinking seems to go out the window for too many people when it comes to social media. They somehow have been led to believe that whatever they want to put on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter is just fine and should be without consequence. And when it involves someone in public safety, they often give the impression they believe there are no special responsibilities that come with being a police officer, firefighter, EMT or paramedic.
Let me make it clear that this column isn’t really about these two officers or the video ”Driving While Black”. What I am writing here should not be seen as an opinion or a prompt for a discussion on the issue of racial profiling. My focus is on this video being the latest outrageous example of SMACSS. While this one may be especially sensitive for some because the topic of the video involves race, SMACCS cuts across many other topics and impacts public safety workers of all races, creeds, religions and ethnic origins. Just click on this link and scroll down. You will see plenty of other cases STATter911.com has covered where careers have been cut down because of bad judgment in using social media.
The best I can tell is that the underlying cause is pretty universal among law enforcement, firefighters and EMS who have contracted SMACSS. It comes from a belief that a person can post whatever they want, whenever they want. Uniform and public trust be damned.
While legislation in the form of a department’s social media policy may catch some cases before they happen, there is really no known cure. As long as there is social media and the Internet there will be those who can’t avoid contracting SMACCS. But it can be prevented through education.
It’s a really simple lesson, though a hard one to follow for those who were brought up to believe that everything in their lives must be shared with the world. But once they can fully understand and accept that there are legitimate ethical and legal issues where social media and public safety intersect, the chances for a long career will increase, while at the same time the likelihood of catching SMACSS will decrease.
WRC-TV/NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood says a destruction of property investigation was started after it was discovered that someone drew a mustache on the official photograph of DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe at the quarters of Engine 10, Truck 13. The picture was left hanging upside down in the firehouse.:
A deputy chief and a lieutenant dressed down the company, demanding respect for the chief and threatening criminal charges.
“You don’t want to be in here in this agency or under the direction of the fire chief, there’s nothing holding you back,” an official can be heard saying on a recording obtained by News4. “But as long as he’s the fire chief, we all have to respect him.”
I heard about it, but it’s probably just something that’s blown out of proportion,” Ellerbe said. “I talked to our internal affairs, told them don’t even worry about it.”
“I guess whether they like me or not I’ll be the chief, but I can’t worry about that stuff,” he added. “We have a lot of serious stuff to take care of, to think about, and putting mustaches on pictures is not one of those high priority items.”
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department spokesman Mark Brady tells the Washington Times’ Andrea Noble that the removal of four career firefighters from the Riverdale firehouse (Station 807) last Friday was to allow “some cooling-off time.” While PGFD and Riverdale Fire Department, Inc have not officially said what everyone is cooling off from, other than Brady’s Saturday press release citing ”ongoing conflicts” and “several on-going internal investigations”, the president of IAFF Local 1619 has provided some details for Noble’s article published today:
“One of our female members made allegations including having her personal protective gear tampered with,” fire union President Andrew Pantelis said. “We’ve been aware of a tense and sometimes hostile work environment for several months now.”
Volunteer firefighters will be responsible for staffing the station 24 hours a day until further notice, county department officials said.
Volunteer leadership declined to comment.
“All I can say is that Chief Bashoor made his decision so that outstanding issues can be resolved,” said Stephen Lamphier, president of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department.
The four career firefighters who had been assigned to Riverdale on day work are now working out of Station 813 in Riverdale Heights a little more than a mile away leaving Station 807 as an all-volunteer firehouse.
Those who have heard me speak or read my columns about social media the last few years know that I rarely fail to mention words of wisdom from two people, Gerald Baron and Bill Boyd. It was Baron’s book Now Is Too Late2 that put everything I learned as a reporter about news coverage and the impact of the Internet and social media into perspective. The book also took me into the world of Bill Boyd, a fire chief in Washington State.
Since reading the book I’ve gotten to know both men and stay current on their thoughts of the evolution of social media in the public safety/ emergency management arena through emails, phone conversations, Tweets, Facebook posts and their blogs (Bill’s It’s Not My Emergency and Gerald’s Crisis Blogger).
Bill Boyd is one of a very small number of fire service leaders who “gets it” when it comes to the crucial role of social media in emergency management. More important, Chief Boyd is constantly looking at some of the every day practices of the fire service and public safety and how they must evolve to include social media, not only to get the job done, but to stay relevant to the people you serve.
If you are a leader who is still hesitant about making SM a part of your department, or one who is looking for guidance and trying to understand what you got yourself into with Facebook, Twitter and all of the other platforms, let Chief Bill Boyd be your guide. Chief Boyd, along with Gerald Baron and Agincourt Strategies, have produced this video training series to give you what you need to know to understand how social media is changing emergency management and how you can leverage its power to protect both the public and your agency’s reputation.
I am honored to team up with these two as part of STATter911 Communications continuing efforts to help fire service leaders and others communicate effectively, whether it is part of the daily routine of serving the public or during a critical incident. In addition to these videos, STATter911.com will be running guest columns on social media from both Chief Bill Boyd and Gerald Baron.
Did you hear the latest from those damn unpatriotic, liberal, Commie sympathizer, whining news media types? You won’t believe this one. You better take a Valium because when you read the details you’re going to want to suspend the First Amendment immediately, if not sooner.
Can you believe while covering this tragic wildfire ravaging parts of Colorado, the TV stations in Denver and beyond dared to show video and pictures of burned out and burning homes?
Those heartless and uncaring ghouls. Actual burning homes where people once lived! I’m serious. They should take away the license of any TV station that does that.
The worst part is the TV stations continued transmitting these pictures after being warned by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
One of those shocking KDVR-TV images the sheriff doesn’t want you to see. Some folks think the TV station should be sued.
At times the journalistic imperative to deliver news clashed with authorities’ efforts to control the flow of information.
On Monday, the Larimer County Sherriff’s Office issued a request to the media not to show photos of destroyed homes out of respect to homeowners.
Station managers acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue, but turned aside the plea on journalistic grounds.
“While we have deep respect for what Larimer County is asking, at the same time we are hearing from the same community that they want to know,” said Jeff Harris, News Director at 7News. The outpouring of response regarding the station’s extended coverage has been rewarding, he said.
“We certainly understand the emotional nature of those images,” said CBS4 News Director Tim Wieland. “In fact, many news events in our community can be difficult to watch for those who are directly affected. However, while we take care not to show inappropriate images, our job at the end of the day is to cover the news.”
When did the people of Colorado elect Mr. Wieland or Mr. Harris so they could make these decisions about what we should see? Last I looked, Sheriff Justin Smith was chosen by the voters to be in charge.
Come on folks. Freedom of the press does not mean you can just go around shooting pictures and video of news worthy events and put them all over the television and the Internet for just anyone to view. That certainly isn’t what our founding fathers had in mind.
The Larimer County Sheriff Dept needs to sue the hell out of EVERY News Media Station, especially FOX31, due to the fact they they announced they did NOT want any homes being shown (burning or not) on TV due to the fact it would cause emotional distress for the owners of the homes in the fire zone. Mitt Romney should sue FOX31 because the only commercials they’ll show on their station (containing his name) are anti-Romney commercials. I’m even gonna request to be one of Romney’s, and the homeowners Legal Advisory Board. You screwed up FOX31, accept the consequences for your actions.
At least it’s hearteneing to see there are some other patriots who posted and let it be known they agree with Mr. Brown.
To make matter worse, I have also learned there are now Facebook and Twitter accounts about the fires that were not okayed by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. WTF!
There are no official Facebook or Twitter accounts for the High Park Fire. Any sites that exist are not authorized.
Seriously folks, we can’t be having this. It’s bad enough that the news media think they have the right to provide information to the public that isn’t approved, but now the average citizen is doing this through social media.
If we begin letting just any Joe Schmoe on Facebook, or some schmuck with a blog have their say whenever they want, without authorization, won’t that be the end of our free society? (BTW, someschmuckwithablog.com is one of those sites not authorized by any sheriff and it should be shut down immediately.)
Doesn’t this idea of citizen journalists with their posts, Tweets and blogs go against everything this country has stood for? When will it end?
From press release by Mark Brady, PGFD (Still images by Brady & video by William “Hawk” Hawkins, Fire Chiefs Aide):
On a day when storms rolled through Prince George’s County with heavy rains, high winds and threats of tornado’s, the Fire/EMS Department Technical Services Team was kept busy. The team handles complex rescues involving collapse, confined space, high angle and swift water. The teams had to utilize two of those skills while performing the rescue of three teen-aged males from the swollen and swift moving Northwest Branch waterway.
Sometime after 7:00 pm several residents of the Mount Rainier and Brentwood Community came outdoors during a break in the storms. The power of Mother Nature was evident near the 38th Street Bridge in Mount Rainier. One resident saw three teen aged males walking near the shoreline. She turned away for just a moment and when she looked back she saw them in the water frantically attempting to make their way back to the safety of the shore. They didn’t stand a chance swimming in the swift moving water and were carried downstream. They passed a concrete bridge support and each one was able to grab onto and climb on to the wide base. They became stranded and trapped with the water level continuing to rise. The witness called 911 and a response of Fire/EMS Units from Bunker Hill, Hyattsville and Chillum responded to the scene as well as the Departments Technical Services Team and rescue boats from the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad and Marine Division. Firefighters worked rapidly to devise a plan to retrieve the teens. Another thunderstorm was approaching and the water level in the Northwest Branch continued to rise.
A system of ropes and pulleys were set up with the assistance of the ladder from Hyattsville. Firefighter Joe Ford was placed into a harness and lowered over the bridge and down about 25 feet to the water level. He explained to the anxious teens how the rescue would work; the teens would be raised to the top of the bridge one at a time. Once on the bridge level they were treated for hypothermia by medics. All three were removed at about 8:20 pm and transported to a hospital in good condition.
The successful outcome of this incident was a result of coordination and teamwork by all personnel on the scene. Incident Commanders, firefighters, EMT’s, Paramedics, Technical Services and Marine Division personnel, both volunteer, career and civilian, worked cohesively to bring this potentially tragic incident to a extremely positive outcome.
NOTE: Some of our readers pointed out the comments were off on this post and wondered why. A very good question. It was completely accidental and was unknown to the editor until the emails arrived. As of 11:35 PM on 4-18 the comments are on.
Prince George’s County Firefighter/Medics rescued a worker that was trapped within a large piece of machinery in what proved to be a very challenging rescue. Firefighters and Paramedics were dispatched to an industrial area in the 5400 block of Van Dusen Road in Laurel at about 11:00 am. A worker at a mulch plant had become trapped inside of a machine that is used to inject colored dye into mulch. First arriving Firefighter/Medics found an adult male that had both legs trapped within heavy machinery and very little to no space to move in the machines “hopper.” Access to the victim was only possible by using ground ladders.
The victim was so entangled in heavy metal machinery that paramedics feared surgical intervention would be required to free the critically injured worker. Paramedics requested a “Go Team” respond to the scene. A GO TEAM is a group of medical professionals that normally work in a hospital environment. When requested, a team of surgeons, nurses, anesthetists and other medical staff will be taken to the scene and if needed do what they need to do to remove the patient from entrapment.
Additional Fire/EMS Department resources including the Technical Rescue Team, Hazardous Materials Team, a tower ladder and additional engine companies operated on the scene for just over 90 minutes. There were a total of 50 firefighter/medics on the scene.
A CRNA was first member of GO TEAM to arrive at the scene. Photo by PGFD’s Mark E. Brady.
A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) was the first member of the GO TEAM to arrive. He was brought from the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Hospital on board Maryland State Police Trooper 2 to the scene. A combination of Fire/EMS Department Paramedics, the CRNA and the flight medic from Trooper 2 worked together to devise the best course of medical treatment for the victim in conjunction with the members of the Technical Rescue Services.
Parts of the machine were disabled and removed, however, the victim still remained wedged in the machine. The victim was in severe pain and was sedated and intubated. The combination of the removal of parts of the machinery and sedation allowed rescuers enough room to maneuver the victim’s legs out of the machinery without causing additional pain and without surgical intervention. The victim was free of entrapment at about 12:30 pm.
Once extricated the victim was placed into a stokes basket suspended from the extended bucket of the Tower Ladder from Laurel Fire/EMS Station #810 and control maintained by a rope and pulley system established by the Technical Rescue Team.
Once on the ground the victim was treated by a combination of Prince George’s County Paramedics, the flight medic from MSP Trooper 2 and the CRNA. MSP Trooper 2 Medevac transported the patient to a trauma center. The victim was still intubated and suffering from critical injuries to both legs. His injuries, while critical, are not considered life threatening at this point.
Since our first year of publishing STATter911.com we have had a variety of postings about cameras at the scene of emergency incidents. With it has been an ongoing conversation with you, our readers, about the ethics, rights and responsibilities of the press, public, victims, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and police officers.
That conversation was bumped to a new level a year ago this month with the video above of a trooper with the Connecticut State Police screaming at a freelance news photographer shooting a fatal car fire from behind a guard rail on I-95. There were 165 comments, many of them from me, as we went back and forth over the actions of the trooper and the man behind the camera. (Click here and scroll down for the comments.)
Many of you, like the trooper, thought the cameraman was a ghoul and I was equally evil for defending him. I asked a lot of questions from those who took the trooper's side and blasted the videographer and me.
I tried to understand what was so offensive about the video. As you look at the raw footage above, the only thing you see is a burning car. As I have asked from the start, since when is shooting a car fire that shuts down a highway taboo?
In fact, maybe something is wrong with me (many of you have said as much), but the only thing I found offensive were the actions of the trooper. Not only was the trooper rude and insensitive to someone doing their job, he overstepped his bounds, acting as an editor or censor of what the public is allowed to see. Many of you made excuses for the trooper and I agreed it is just possible he was having a bad day. As for the videographer, despite all the name calling by our readers, no one pointed to any evidence that he didn't do his job professionally and treat the trooper with respect.
Taking in all of the comments and studying them closely, I came to my own conclusion of what was actually fueling the outrage. Despite what many wrote, this was not about being sensitive to the victim and her family. Though I do think that some of you sincerely believe in your hearts that was the case. I contended then and am even more convinced now (based on what I am about to show you) that most of those defending the trooper are willing to let a uniformed agent of our government decide what's appropriate for us to see, First Amendment be damned, because of a hatred of, or bias against, the press.
I have known for a long time how despised the news media is, but reading the reaction to this video actually made me fear a bit for the future of our country. Even if I strongly disagreed with the actions of the photographer, I wouldn't want the police or any other government agency to be the decider of what we can see in a public place.
Besides the First Amendment issue, I also believe that there is a natural tendency for people to side with the authority figure. He's a cop, so he must be right. I get that, but again respectfully disagree that our government is always right.
So, why am I bringing this up now?
Take a look at the videos below. All have been posted on STATter911.com since October and were widely viewed, prompting many comments. Each one involves fire fatalities or critical injuries. Two videos show firefighters rescuing small children from burning homes. One clip is of a man being pulled from his burning home. Another has scenes of a man who later died collapsed outside a burning hotel. There is one showing firefighters attacking a fire with three bodies still inside. And there is also a video that shows efforts to recover a firefighter who died in the line of duty.
To me, each of these videos is a hell of a lot more graphic than what was shown in the Connecticut car fire video. All of the videos, except two, show victims in cardiac or respiratory arrest being treated by fire and EMS.
Despite the many comments posted with each of the videos, there is no one complaining that these photographers, like the one in Connecticut, are ghouls. We have no one screaming about victims' rights or HIPAA violations. And no one is telling me what a bad man I am for running these videos. Why is that? How can that be?
How can shooting a car fire bring such outrage while showing actual fire victims or being up close and personal at a fatal fire not even bring a squeak?
I believe the answer is pretty simple. In these videos there was no authority figure on the scene, like the police officer in Connecticut, overstepping his or her bounds and fueling the fire and passion against the photographers.
What I attempt to do with every conflict I see or am involved in, is to boil down what it's really about. Despite all of the claims last year of protecting the victim (which I believe those in public safety can do without trampling on our freedoms), I am left with the conclusion that, without someone yelling at a photographer, or reminding us of our hatred of the press, we generally just sit back and watch these videos without a great deal of disgust, anger and outrage. Am I wrong?
Now, comes word of an even older incident. One that occurred 13 years ago. And it involves the current LAFD chief, Brian Cummings. Cummings was the captain of the Venice fire station when the firefighters asked a bikini clad woman walking by to pose with them. According to KTTV-TV, at least one photo was taken of the woman appearing topless while on the fire truck.
So, who broke this news? Who was dredging up this dirt on a fire chief who took office just a month ago? The best we can tell from the articles we've read so far, the answer is Brian Cummings. Yes, it appears the chief blew the whistle on himself. In addition, despite the incident being well beyond that two year statute of limitations, the chief has also punished himself. He will be doing 120 hours of community service at a women's shelter and a youth mentoring program.
Here's some of what Chief Cummings had to say (from KTTV-TV):
"I apologize to the residents of Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa and the brave men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department for this incident," Cummings said.
Cummings called his part in the photo incident "irresponsible and inappropriate" and said he came forward with the picture for accountability.
"This is an opportunity for a teachable moment," Cummings said. "To be able to use my personal experience of what happened to me to be able to help my young firefighters, to keep them from making the same type of mistake is invaluable."
To anyone in a position of leadership who reads STATter911.com, do yourself a favor and take note of how Chief Cummings dealt with this situation. Even if it turns out that a reporter had been asking questions that brought this response from the chief (again, there is no indication of that at this point and, in fact, the chief said he self-reported this information to the department's professional standards division), the chief has shown great leadership in his actions and message to the department and has provided the rest of us with a great example of an extremely effective way to handle bad news.
Watch the video above and read the KTTV-TV and Contra Costa Times stories on the chief's announcement. Now, picture how this story would have looked to the public and his firefighters if Chief Cummings did what so many leaders still do when there is embarrassing news about them or the department (think of former Congressman Anthony Weiner). Here's what you don't see or hear in this story:
A reporter chasing the chief down the street yelling questions about some racy photos.
A reporter saying they have uncovered a department scandal.
The chief reading from a statement or issuing one through his press office and then refusing to answer questions.
A "no comment" from the chief or a PIO.
A "we can't talk about it because it's a personal matter" type statement issued from the press office.
A union president saying there is a double standard on how discipline is handled in the department.
What you do see is a chief in charge, admitting he made a mistake, taking responsibility, apologizing and then explaining his proposal on dealing with these type issues in the future.
There is a great deal to gain by releasing bad news yourself rather than wait for it to leak out to reporters. It allows you to take some control of the story and puts you ahead of the game in the ultimate goal of getting this news behind you so you can move forward. For this to be effective, it means you really have to come clean. If you don't get all of the bad news out, it can, and likely will, come back to haunt you.
Besides the problem of lawyers telling you not to say anything about a sensitive subject for fear it will cost you later in court, the biggest obstacles in handling bad news this way tend to be the ego and emotion of the person in charge (again, think Anthony Weiner). From what we can see in our vantage point all the way across the country, Chief Cummings had no problem with any of this. As long as there are no other similar skeletons in his closet that we are not hearing about, Chief Cummings has turned a story that had potential to seriously damage his career into one that will likely do him a world of good.
Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference that discipline that could include firings or demotions may come as early as today (Wednesday) in the aftermath of the video posted on YouTube Sunday evening of a prank targeting two rookies at Station 108. Riggins said five of the seven firefighters present were in on the hoax involving a man with a gun, but the rookies were not. The chief says he spoke with the two rookies. Riggins said while they were frightened they are taking the incident in stride.
WMAZ-TV reports the Bibb County Sheriff's Department looked into the incident but Sheriff Jerry Modena says no crime was committed.
Firefighters talking outside at the Peake Road station where the prank was filmed went inside Tuesday morning when a Telegraph reporter and photographer arrived. Later, someone could be seen peeking through blinds at the front of the station.
Capt. Stephanie Burke answered the door and said that firefighters had been instructed to refer all comment to Riggins or the mayor’s office.
Although firefighters involved in the incident weren’t on administrative leave Tuesday, Riggins said he expects disciplinary action will be taken within the next 24 hours.
Authorities are still trying to identify the masked person seen in the video, and they are checking to see if that person is a Macon police officer or a Bibb County sheriff’s deputy.
It took only a week after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the right of the citizenry to shoot video of public officials working in public places for someone to decide that the law of the land doesn't apply in their jurisdiction. Interestingly, that jurisdiction is Suffolk County, New York, where a little more than a month earlier a veteran police sergeant decided he was editor in chief after chasing a freelance videographer from a crime scene and later arresting him for daring to point a camera in the direction of cops doing their jobs. Did I miss the footnote to the First Amendment that says "except on Long Island"?
Even more interesting is that the confrontation above was shot by Phil Datz (and posted on September 3), the same cameraman who the good sergeant arrested on July 29 (see the video below).
Mike and others report it is a Suffolk County EMS officer who grabbed the camera at a Haz-Mat scene in Bohemia, New York. Now, I know a lot of people will look at this one and say the cameraman, from WNBC-TV, is too close. The information with this video and posted elsewhere indicates no police or fire line was established until after this incident occurred.
Whether he is too close or, as the official says in the video, "I told you to stop", is really meaningless here. An EMS official grabbing a camera like that makes him and his agency look foolish and opens the organization up for all kinds of issues. You rarely win pulling a stunt like this.
Yes, for all you press haters, it looks good giving the nasty media what those scums deserve. But where in the job description does it say someone in fire or EMS has the right to decide what can be photographed or the right to grab a person or a camera to enforce their orders?
My advice is unless someone's life or safety is in imminent danger you might want to leave the enforcement to police. Though in Suffolk County we have discovered that some police officers have a lot to learn about this same issue.
Watch what happens when Tim Hallman of CoudyNews.com arrives to take video of a house fire in Coudersport, Pennsylvania on July 22. According to Hallman, the woman putting his hands on him and directing Hallman far away from the fire scene (behind the public and other news people, according to Hallman) is a member of a local EMS crew.
So what is the justification for actions like this by a first responder? Can you make a case that this is an issue of safety or interfering with the work of public safety at the scene of an emergency? Reading the comments at CoudyNews.com there are some trying to claim that.
How many of you really believe that and see evidence of that in the video?
This is a situation I dealt with numerous times in my career where someone in police, fire or EMS just couldn't deal with cameras on the scene. This isn't that much different than the recent Suffolk County, New York video where the cop chased a videographer to an area behind the public and then arrested him (the police commissioner requested that the charges be dropped).
Handling the news media and even the public this way is not good policy for any public safety agency. The legality is questionable (I am not a lawyer and leave that to an expert like Curt Varone) and the image you present to the public is a pretty poor one (though it will make some press bashers happy).
You need to make sure that your department has consistent policies and procedures for dealing with cameras and providing safety at the scene for the press and public that recognize the rights we are provided in this country. When those decisions are left to the whim and bias of individual first responders we all lose.
For the record, in WTTG-TV in Washington looked at this very same topic and reported similar issues with Virginia's Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department in May, 2009. From an image standpoint I recommend if you have a defensible, justifiable position you should be out there very proactively defending and explaining it to reporters and the public. If not, you need to quickly correct the problem, explain mistakes that have been made and show the taxpayers how you will prevent this problem in the future.
Weakly defending it and letting it linger just allows your image to continually be battered and fails to do what you must do to when managing a reputation issue, get the problem quickly behind you and move on.
In this time of budget cuts and calls for fiscal responsibility, 9News wondered why the Fairfax County Fire Department had more than two dozen take-home vehicles.
They're assigned to senior officials who are subject to "emergency call-outs." Most local departments define those as fire and rescue incidents involving 'significant injury or death.'
Reporter Andrea McCarren obtained a stack of internal documents from Fire Department higher-ups urging fuel conservation and a limit to non-essential travel for everyone driving a taxpayer-funded vehicle. What we found in practice appears very different.
On any given day, the parking lot next to the Massey Building in Fairfax County is filled with marked, and mostly unmarked, take-home vehicles including Ford Explorers, Chevy Tahoes, Chevy Impalas and even gas-guzzling Ford Expeditions. (Editor's note: 12 city/18 highway)
"Most of our firefighters don't get paid for their commute. Most of our citizens don't get paid for their commute,"said Pat Herrity, a Fairfax County Supervisor to whom we showed our findings.
But it appears, that senior level fire officials are.
"If what we're really talking about is vehicles that are used for commuting… that shouldn't be happening," said John Cook, also a Fairfax County Supervisor.
The take-home cars are intended for emergencies, so senior command staff can respond to fire and rescue incidents on a 24-hour basis. So, through the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained the call logs covering three months of this year.
Page after page, we found NO emergency call-outs at all. And those logs that were filled out listed emergencies like 'retiree's dinner', 'recruit graduation' (in which multiple vehicles went to the same event at the Government Center) and 'funerals' for non-County employees.
Said Cook, "If they're in a position of regularly responding in the middle of the night, off-hours, they ought to have a vehicle. But we don't need vehicles that are perks. Since our vehicles aren't being used for response, then they're not needed."
We also examined where these 29 take-home cars are going each day. Most are to destinations well outside Fairfax County. The records reveal round-trip distances as far as 332 miles, making "emergency response" questionable.
Asked Cook, "What are you coming back to do two hours after the event occurred if you live that far? And even if you're an hour away?"
To determine the cost to taxpayers, we enlisted the help of WUSA9 Accounting Manager Art Pangilinan.
Taking the Kelley Blue Book value of each vehicle based on its make, model and year, we calculated the cost of gas based on the average distances traveled. For gas alone, taxpayers are spending more than $112,000 a year.
"It's not just the gas. It's the wear and tear on the vehicle. It's the insurance. It's the repairs, the oil changes, the everything else. Just the administrative overhead of maintaining a vehicle fleet," said Cook.
"Based on what I see here, I've got some serious questions," said Herrity.
The County audited the Fire Department's use of take-home vehicles in 2009 and discovered shoddy record-keeping.
"It was very sloppy. Obviously repeated entries. Dates that were incorrect. February 29th, 30th, February 31st," said Herrity.
And for 2011, we too found several dates that simply don't match.
"Obviously, it looks like we still have some problems with documentation," said Herrity.
Added Cook, "We need to be smarter and we need to look at this."
"I think it's time for us to have the auditor go take another look at take-home vehicles," said Herrity.
Our requests for an on-camera interview with Chief Ronald Mastin were declined, but his spokesman issued the following statement:
"The 29 county approved take-home vehicles directly support the overall operational mission of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and its more than one million residents. It is essential for key leaders to be able to respond when operational capacity dictates, especially working in a constant 24/7, public safety environment of saving lives and protecting property. Committing resources around-the-clock, in support of emergency services is necessary for critical, no-notice support of emergency incidents. However, just as important, we strive to be good stewards of the resources provided to us by the taxpayer and use those assets set forth by the rules and policies of this department and Fairfax County."
The video above was posted to YouTube about an incident that occurred on Friday in Suffolk County, New York. It came with the following description:
This was the end of a police chase and the Sgt. doesn't want video coverage from a credentialed member of the press. The photog asks how far to move back but the sgt. says no you can't shoot it at all. Notice the road is open to traffic, there are people without a camera that are standing there and even some kids walk straight through the scene. The photog moves a block away and shoots from the next street over and that's when he's arrested and charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration….how can you obstruct from a block away.
LongIslandPress.com says the man behind the camera is Phil Datz, who works for Stringer News Service in New York:
Suffolk County police confirmed that Datz was arrested and said he was charged with obstruction of governmental administration. He was taken to the Fifth Precinct stationhouse in Patchogue where he was fingerprinted and had a mugshot taken. He was later released.
“We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the arrest” of Datz, a police spokesman said. Datz can be heard referring to the cop as a “Sergeant” but the name and rank of the arresting officer was not released.
Ryan said a police officer apologized to him at the precinct, but told him nothing could be done about the arrest because Datz had already been booked.
From experience in writing about this topic, I am sure there are some who will laugh and say the only mistake the police officer made is he didn't destroy the camera and video. I find humor in lots of things many others find inappropriate. But this doesn't make me laugh. To me, it is extremely chilling and very sad.
As many of you who read this electronic rag know, I am very biased when it comes to this issue. I make no apologies for being hard-core pro-First Amendment. And I am kind of fond of that whole Constitution thing.
I know some who disagree with my position will start telling me how awful the news media is (and some in the news media are awful, as recently shown by the News Corp. debacle which now has possible connections to 9-11 victims). And others will tell me I don't know what's not on this video that the terrible man with the camera did. So, let me be clear I am only basing my opinion on what I see in this raw video.
What the police officer had to say on the video and the actions he took are plenty enough for me to once again point out that leaving decisions of what is and isn't okay for the public to see in the hands of uniformed and armed agents of our government is quite a scary scenario for the future of our country. And those who think these actions by police are just fine and call yourselves supporters and protectors of our way of life really need to study a little history and look closely at the countries where government does control the news media. This is my preemptive strike telling you to stop making excuses for people in uniform who are only selectively supporting the Constitution they are sworn to protect.
Below, are some other stories in recent months that help fuel my worries. Each has its own set of circumstances. I am sure many of you who feel differently than I do can find excuses for the actions of the police that will support your own interpretation of our rights. But I have to tell you it's not how they taught it to me in school.
Above is a video from the May 12 arrest of Emily Good in Rochester, New York. This case has received national attention. Good, who is described in news reports as an activist, shot the video of police activity while standing on her front lawn. The District Attorney quickly dropped charges against Good. The union representing the police has a different view on this and believes the safety of officers is what's at stake here. They also say that officers involved in Good's arrest have been threatened (read and watch that story).
James Sheppard, Rochester's police chief, ordered investigations of this incident and one where police ticketed cars belonging to supporters of Good gathered at a meeting (video here). Chief Sheppard told the Democrat and Chronicle on July 5 that he is waiting for results of the investigations before determining if there was any misconduct by Officer Mario Masic, who arrested Good. Here's more of the chief's comments::
He said he thought the video showed that Masic acted professionally, and said the stop that precipitated Good's arrest — the activity partly filmed by Good — was an example of "proactive" policing.
Police said there were suspected gang members in the car. No one was arrested from the vehicle.
Sheppard said the incident does show the need to remind police officers that they shouldn't be concerned if someone videotapes them without interference.
Chief Sheppard is exactly right. A lot of this is about training. Not just for police, but for all first responders who now have to do their jobs with cameras shooting them from all angles. As I have mentioned before, some EMS providers are using cameras during training to make sure when they hit the streets they can do their jobs competently despite someone taking pictures. I have watched law enforcement train for decades on how to ignore taunts and other actions of protesters during large demonstrations. Wouldn't it be smart to the same with cameras?
A story by Jack Minor in Colorado's Greeley Gazette looks at the attempt by some since 9-11 to declare photography illegal. It has some interesting comments by Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner who confirms that his city does not have any law prohibiting taping of police officers (by the way, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service, the FBI, the U.S. Capitol Police and most every other law enforcement agencies in the Washington, DC area confirmed the same for me when I was a TV reporter working on a number of stories about this post 9-11 issue) :
Garner said he was amazed at how a lawful act such as videotaping could be considered illegal. Garner went on to say that he tells young officers to, "Do your job so that if you were being taped and the tape was shown to your loved ones you would never be ashamed."
Great words to live by for all of us in the digital video age.
When you look at the story above from June 19, I think you will understand why the DC police officer in the July 3 Georgetown incident believes citizens have no right to go about their business unmolested when they are taking pictures of cops in action on a public street. Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chief Diane Groomes explains why it is okay for officers to confiscate your camera when you shoot an arrest scene. It leaves you wondering if the department will start taking the cameras of all news photographers who show up where people are being cuffed and stuffed. If not, what's the difference? And who is the press these days anyway? (For the record, as puzzled as I am about her comments, I have a great deal of respect for Chief Groomes and her treatment of the press based on my experience as a reporter in Washington.)
The video above is also from your Nation's Capital. This time the scene is not on a public street, but inside a public meeting of the DC Taxicab Commission. The officers are with the United States Park Police. In fact, the meeting is at a U.S. Park Police facility. Is it only me who finds it ironic that the people who seem the most outraged by the arrest of the reporter are taxi drivers who are immigrants from countries where the press and the citizenry don't have the freedoms that this country guarantees? Reporter Tom Sherwood wrote about this June 22 case here and has more to say here.
Now, before any of you make decisions about what my politics are are or start believing I don't support law enforcement or possibly mom, apple pie and the flag, watch the interview below with the reporter who took the video above. He was also arrested by U.S. Park Police. Notice who is doing the interview and completely supports the reporter's actions and thinks police were wrong. Judge Andrew P. Napolitano is the senior judicial analyst for the Fox News Channel. He also hosts the show Freedom Watch on the Fox Business Network where this interview took place.
Let me say from the outset of this critique (or, if you prefer, Dave's Monday morning quarterbacking), what I saw in news coverage (and that is my only source of info for details on this story), gives me a great deal of respect for Chief Lynn Johnson of the West Platte Fire District in Missouri. The chief had a couple dozen angry citizens and a gaggle of TV reporters demanding answers at a City Council meeting a week after a July 4th fire where a business owner died. The main allegation by the citizens is that it took 14 minutes to put water on the fire and they have video to prove their point.
Chief Johnson didn't run or hide and appeared to keep her cool at the Monday night gathering. That's not always an easy thing to do when your department is under attack. In addition, the chief admitted to a reporter there was a water problem and promised to investigate. I have seen situations like this handled much, much worse by even big city chiefs (not that they necessarily have a lock on doing things correctly).
That said, I think this sticky situation could have been handled in a manner that would have been much better for the chief, the department, the political leaders and, most important, the citizens. My goal here is not to blast anyone, but use this incident as a reminder that extinguishing the type of fires that spread raw emotion through a community, can be almost as important as putting out the ones that require you to place the wet stuff on the red stuff. It is crucial for the well being of your department's reputation that you have pre-plans and SOPs/SOGs for both type of fires.
As I have long advocated, the guiding principle behind such planning is to get the facts out, get them right and get the issue behind you as rapidly as possible so you can work on rebuilding your image in the community.
West Platte Chief Lynn Johnson at Monday's meeting from KSHB-TV.
As we have pointed out before, bad news doesn't get better or smell better with age. By all accounts the chief had enough information to express concern over the loss of life, answer the allegations made by the citizens, acknowledge they were correct in their complaint about a delay in getting water on the fire, correct misinformation about the length of time it took to fix the problem and explain the steps being taken to make sure this doesn't happen again on her watch.
Instead, it is clear to me the very measured response by Chief Johnson to the citizens, via the press, is just delaying the inevitable and letting this story live for another day. What is unclear is if the way it was handled was the choice of Chief Johnson or if she was following the orders of her bosses.
The chief refused to go on camera and apparently did not make a statement in front of the council (if she did, it was not covered in the accounts I viewed). But Chief Johnson did make statements to reporters off-camera:
Lynn Johnson, the Fire Chief, did not feel comfortable talking about the tape on camera until she got a chance to see it. But she did say they did not wait 14 minutes to use water to fight the fire and that they had received conflicting reports about whether or not a person was trapped inside.
The fire chief of the West Platte Fire Protection District now has a copy of the video. She told (reporter Dan) Weinbaum that there was a delay in getting water at the fire scene, but it did not hinder the firefight.
I just can't imagine, a week after the fire, the chief didn't have a pretty good idea what the issue was with getting water. Whether the chief determined it was mechanical or a training problem she should have been able to explain it in more detail (even without the video) by Monday and gotten this behind her.
In other words, cut your losses and do so quickly. It is the same thought process you might use on the fireground. What's burned is burned, I can't change that fact, but I can prevent it from taking out the next building or the block.
Your quick action in a time when reputations are destroyed at the speed of light, thanks to the Internet, is crucial. How deep seated the damage is to your department's image can be directly related to the speed and depth in which you respond when bad news happens.
Consider the image of your department in the digital age as a neighborhood of lightweight constructed homes on a very windy day, with the houses built six feet apart, with no sprinkler systems and no real fire resistive barriers in the outside walls. If you don't get to a room and contents fire in this neighborhood very quickly and put it out you will be chasing the flames from home to home. Failing to decisively and rapidly attack a reputation issue can turn a fire that slightly chars the department's image into a conflagration that wipes out your standing in the community.
Remember, people will often forgive you for your mistakes if you have given them a reason to trust in you. But it makes it much more difficult to earn their forgiveness when they don't feel you have been honest and open and you aren't answering their questions in a timely manner. Just as in the Alameda, California drowning story, this story in Weston, Missouri is ultimately about the public's trust and confidence in their fire department. If they have questions, no matter how wrong-headed they are, you don't look good when those answers aren't provided as soon as the information is known.
In addition, if Chief Johnson did say, as the reporter paraphrased, the delay "did not hinder the firefight", that was probably not a well thought out statement. The fire service telling the public on one hand that every second counts when fire breaks out and then indicating an eight minute delay in getting water did not negatively impact operations doesn't wash. You are not going to win that, especially when there is video of the incident that shows otherwise.
I believe this story would go away a lot faster and the department would look a lot better if the chief had been able to get up at the council meeting and and say something similar to this:
"It was very clear to anyone who saw us in the initial stages of this fire that we had difficulty in getting water at the proper pressure into the hose firefighters first used to attack the flames. For eight minutes we struggled to correct this problem. It was a mechanical (or human) failure. I have taken the following immediate steps to correct this problem as we investigate further … . I will keep our citizens and council informed every step of the way during this investigation.
Each member of this department expresses their sincere sorrow over the loss of life. We can not tell you if the water issue had an impact on the death of the owner of the store. But in many ways that is irrelevant because this water problem just shouldn't have happened and my job as chief is to prevent it from occurring again".
The chief should have also released any known facts about the fire and the problem.
Now, I would ask any of you to tell me what this chief or any other chief or department would lose by making a statement like this and then answering the questions of the citizens and the press?
With such a statement you have responded to the concerns of the people you serve in a timely manner, with facts, transparency and compassion. I believe it would buy you a world of good in a bad situation. What would be the downside? Why do so many leaders avoid doing this?
Stuff happens. Deal with it and move on. Don't prolong your agony or theirs.
At about 8:30 pm, Tuesday, June 7, 2011, Prince George's County Firefighters and Paramedics from the New Carrollton area were alerted to an apartment building fire in the Southern Walk apartment complex.
Three City of New Carrollton Police Officers were on assignment in the area when a citizen flagged them down and reported the fire. The three officers immediately responded a short distance to the scene and reported the fire to their dispatcher. They entered the building and started to alert residents, unaware of the fire, to get out. Unable to advance beyond the second floor landing they evacuated themselves and started to assist residents outside.
Firefighters from West Lanham Hills arrived at 5328 85th Avenue, a 3-story in the front/4-story in the rear apartment building, and reported heavy fire showing from the second level rear side. Residents on upper floors were unable to escape through the interior stairwell due to high heat and thick smoke and retreated to balconies and windows and yelled for help. An EMS Task Force and a Second Alarm were sounded bringing additional resources to the scene.
The fire extended through the upper floors and eventually into the roof before it was brought under control. It required 40 minutes to do so.
An adult female with an infant were rescued from a top floor bedroom window by a volunteer firefighter from Kentland Fire/EMS Station 833 using a ground ladder. The pair were handed over to paramedics and deemed to be not injured. Firefighters effected the rescues of six other residents from the upper floor balconies using ground ladders.
There were nearly 100 firefighters, paramedics, EMT's and support staff that responded on 40 pieces of apparatus.
Four residents were transported to area hospitals with minor illnesses or injuries. Ten additional residents were evaluated and treated on the scene but did not require hospitalization.
Sixty families from four apartment buildings, approximately 120 residents, will be displaced. Two buildings damaged by the fire, two others because utilities have been shut off. The County Citizen Services Unit and the Red Cross will be assisting those displaced.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Fire loss is still being tabulated.
There has been an ongoing discussion in our comments section about my recent postings on the issue of cameras being used by the press and citizens at scenes where there is police, fire or EMS activity. Coincidentally, on Friday, this video surfaced, with the help of the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Mike Blasky. It seems to illustrate many of the points I have been trying to make.
Reading the comments on Law Officer's Facebook page over a similar, but less violent confrontation in Florida and the comments on this site, it is clear there are many first responders who aren't really clear about the freedoms provided by the First Amendment. They believe it is perfectly okay for a police officer, firefighter, EMT or paramedic to order someone to shut down a camera when that citizen or member of the press is standing in a public place and shooting something that is in public view. Some believe it is okay for a first responder to make up laws that don't exist and threaten a photographer with arrest or seizure of their camera equipment. All sorts of reasons are used that aren't backed up by any legal authority. They include victims' rights, right to privacy, and claims that shooting a building threatens security. Sometimes it's simply the belief that a camera shooting a first responder doing their jobs interferes with an investigation or operation.
The case of Mitchell Crooks and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Officer Derek Colling should give pause to those who believe any of those are legitimate reasons to interfere with picture taking when the person has not infiltrated a secure area.
In the raw video (above) from March 20, Officer Colling approached Crooks, who had spent the previous hour shooting video of the arrest of burglary suspects across the street from Crooks' home. Crooks was standing on his own property at the time, even though he initially denied it was his home. Ordered to shut down his camera, Crooks refused. The camera toting citizen was wrestled to the ground, battered and handcuffed by the officer.
As Mike Blasky writes, Crooks initially faced charges of battery on a police officer, had his expensive camera seized and suffered a broken nose and possible broken ribs. But things are now looking very different, thanks to Crooks not shutting off his camera and the right people seeing his video. The charges have been dropped by the Clark County District Attorney, an internal investigation of Officer Colling is underway, Officer Colling has been suspended and Crooks got his camera and video back.
Besides Crooks' claim, at first, that he didn't live where the video was shot, there are a few other side issues in Blasky's article that sure are interesting but in the end may not really be the deciding factor in whether Crooks has the right to use his camera in a public place, unmolested by law enforcement. These include a 2002 video of police that Mitchell Crooks shot that made news in California. In that case the video showed two Inglewood officers beating a 16-year-old boy. Blasky also brings up that Officer Colling has been involved in two fatal shootings that were later ruled justified.
If you really think that you, as a first responder, have the legal right to interfere with such picture taking by the press or the public I urge you to read Blasky's entire article and follow this case closely. My view is that Officer Colling has made his department and police officers in general look pretty bad because of such thinking.
This is why I strongly suggest police, fire and EMS departments teach their people what limited legal authority they have when it comes to cameras in public places and to really understand the rights of the people holding those cameras.
I know the actions of Derek Colling don't represent law enforcement in general. I don't want anyone to get the impression that this site's purpose is now for cop bashing or that I'm anti-police. What I am is pro-First Amendment.
There is a real fear/hatred of the press and cameras in general by some who serve the public. That's their right to feel that way. But this video appears to show when that turns into public officials infringing on the basic rights of others it can quickly get really ugly.
We have updates from various sources on the firefighters burned Friday at a house fire in Northeast Washington. DC Fire & EMS Department spokesman Pete Piringer tells STATter911.com that all of the firefighters are making good progress, including Chuck Ryan who was critically burned. FF Warren Deavers was released from the hospital yesterday which leaves Lt. Robert Alvarado and Sgt. Ramon Hounshell in good condition at the Medstar Burn Unit of the Washington Hospital Center. FF Theodore Douglas was treated and released on Friday.
Here is more on Chuck Ryan in a message this morning from PGFD's Mark Brady. Ryan is the chief of the Riverdale VFD:
Riverdale Volunteer Fire Chief and District of Columbia Career Fire Fighter Charles Ryan remains in “critical” but stable condition at the Burn Unit of the Washington Hospital Center. Ryan sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns on over 40% of his body in an early Friday morning fire in northeast Washington, DC where he was working.
Even though he remains intubated, medical staff had him up taking slow and measured laps around the Intensive Care Unit of the Burn Center. Family, close personal friends and fellow firefighters have had a constant presence at the hospital. Chuck has been able to communicate via facial expressions and written/typed words. One of his very first communications was to inquire about the welfare of his crewmembers.
Whenever a firefighter, regardless of department affiliation, is injured and hospitalized in the Burn Unit, a fraternity of previous burn center patients return and help families and friends of the injured to understand the healing process. Retired PGFD Fire Lieutenant Dino Mahaffey and his wife spent time at the hospital over the weekend. The Mahaffey’s spent time with Chuck’s family and firefighters helping them to understand the healing process and to reinforce the knowledge that the Burn Unit of the Washington Hospital Center is the best possible place to be at this time and that burn patients have the very best physician in Dr. Marion Jordan, director of the Washington Hospital Center's Burn Unit.
Steve Lamphier, Volunteer President of the Riverdale Fire/EMS Station, stated late Sunday night, “Chuck continues to make remarkable progress, the medical staff is continuing to assess his burns and has reported some positive news.” He added, “Chuck still can not have visitors. Thanks to everyone for their continued support and thoughts.”
Medical staff will re-evaluate Ryan's condition today and possibly remove the intubutaion tube; another positive sign in the road to recovery.
Chief Ryan contniues to make great progress. He was able to complete 4 laps around the ICU today and is still intubated at this time. He is still unable to receive visitors other than family and we are hoping that sometime this week that will change. Once we receive notification, we will make that information available online.
We continue to thank all of those who have offered assistance and words of encouragement during this crisis. Please continue to keep all of these firefighters in your thoughts and prayers as they continue their road to recovery.
SUNDAY UPDATE: All of the hospitalized members are doing well. One is scheduled to be released this afternoon; two are being evaluated for possible release early next week, and even the most seriously injured member has been up walking around, and communicating with visiting members. All will have significantly lengthy recovery periods in the weeks and months ahead.
SATURDAY UPDATE: DC Firefighters Burn Foundation liaison personnel are standing watch at the Washington Hospital Center's Burn Unit, and assisting the family members of the injured firefighters. They are happy to report that the members conditions are all improving. They were also thankful for the assistance and visitation of Ret. Lt. Joe Morgan. The members are being closely overseen by Dr. Marion Jordan, and his amazing staff at the Burn Center. Local 36 has received questions regarding retired members being able to donate blood from areas other than the Washington Metro Area. When this information is known, we will pass it along to all members, so that everyone may continue to assist. Local 36 & the DC Firefighters Burn Foundation would like to thank it's members for the outpouring of support for the hospitalized members, and also extend a heartfelt thanks to the United States Park Police, the Maryland State Police Helicopter Division, the Prince Georges County MD. Fire Department, and the Montgomery County MD. Fire Dept. for their invaluable assistance during our time of need.