I-Team investigates: 5 firefighters never responded to incident near Engine 26
(WJLA) - In a scathing report, the city points a critical finger at five D.C. firefighters who never responded to cries for help in Northeast D.C. when 77-year-old Cecil Mills suffered cardiac arrest. A 911 call reveals:
Woman: He's not breathing.
Caller: I have a person. He's 75.
Woman: Not breathing, not conscious.
Multiple sources say firefighter number one, a key figure in the report, is named Garrett Murphy. Murphy lives with his wife and young child in South Central Pennsylvania in the shadow of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant. He commutes two hours to Washington.
Despite a knock on Murphy’s door and a quick conversation over the phone, Murphy declined to comment on a case that has shocked the region.
His neighbors were hesitant to speak publicly, yet told us off-camera that they were deeply troubled by this tragedy. But fellow D.C. firefighter Robert Alvarado decided to speak out in his defense:
"Outstanding employee, great kid, great person to be around."
Alvarado says he never had an issue while working beside Murphy for several years at another fire house, and believes that what happened at Engine 26 says more about a department in disarray than the inaction of a few firefighters.
"You're taking people that are the bravest people out there, that are afraid of nothing, and now they are afraid -- that's how bad it is," said Alvarado.
According to the report, when Mills collapsed, those around him rushed conveniently to a nearby fire hall.
The 911 call continues:
Caller: The fire department is across the street.
Dispatcher: Yeah, I understand that, we are going to send someone right away. Sure.
The report also states that a rookie firefighter “informed FF-1 of the situation…FF-1 stated that they were not dispatched to the call and that they needed to inform the Lt."
"FF-1 went to the Lt.'s bunkroom and informed the Lt. that a man across the street was down and asked if the Lt. was going to put them on the run. FF-1 told the Lt. that he thought the address was the 1300 block of Rhode Island Ave., NE."
Alvarado and others familiar with protocol insist that this is standard, as firefighters don’t self-dispatch.
"The kid let the officer know," explained Alvarado. "Now, you're a firefighter. You can't jump into a $325,000 fire truck and take off without an officer."
That officer has been identified as Lt. Kellene Davis, who told firefighter one – Murphy – to get an exact address. But the report says Murphy didn’t return. Instead, it states that he "...returned to the kitchen area and informed FF-2 and FF-3 that the 'rookie had a man down across the street so I let Lieutenant know we should be going on this run.'"
The report continues: "FF-1 subsequently gathered his personal items and study books from his car and went to the bunkroom. When the Lt. looked for FF-1, the Lt. found FF-1 in his bunkroom lying in bed, studying."
When asked why he didn’t return with an address, Murphy indicated that dispatch already had an ambulance en route. But that ambulance had been sent to the wrong address, and the report says that 22 minutes passed before Mills was transported to a hospital where he died.
"it's about as tragic as it gets," said Alvarado, who also stated that a culture of fear has permeated the agency following a year of staffing, equipment, and response time scandals.
This outspoken critic of embattled D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe was demoted twice for insubordination, and believes that agency leaders have created an atmosphere of inaction, in which a perfect storm of dysfunction formed over Engine 26.
"There's a culture in this department right now of fear, fear of taking action, even if it's appropriate action," he said.