News & Politics

Report on Death of Man Not Helped by Fire Fighters Calls for Disciplinary Action

An internal investigation says that five fire fighters failed to help an elderly man who suffered a heart attack outside a DC fire station.

Marie Mills, right, with her lawyer Karen Evans, addresses the official report on her father's death. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

A lawyer for the family of a 77-year-old city parks employee charged District fire fighters with “outrageous negligence” for failing to respond when the man collapsed across the street from a fire station January 25. Medric Cecil Mills later died of a heart attack.

“It’s pretty much unthinkable,” the attorney, Karen Evans, told reporters after the release of the results of an internal investigation into Mills’s death. The report says five fire fighters and four emergency dispatchers fell down on the job that day.

In the report released by the office of Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander, states that the failures began about 2:45 PM, when an individual who witnessed Mills collapse on the sidewalk crossed Rhode Island Ave., NE, to alert on-duty fire fighters that Mills was in need of medical assistance. A probationary fire fighter was manning the front desk and paged his supervising lieutenant, who did not appear. Three career fire fighters were also on duty, one of whom said he would notify the lieutenant in her bunkroom.

The lieutenant told the veteran fire fighter to get an exact address for where Mills was, but the report says that rather than get that information, he gathered some personal items and went back to his bunkroom to study. Meanwhile, none of the five on-duty personnel at Engine Company 26 made a written record of the multiple witnesses who asked the fire station to assist, and the lieutenant failed to notify her batallion chief.

The performance by ambulance dispatchers at the city’s Office of Unified Communications was just as bungled, the internal report finds. The dispatcher who took the the first 911 call took down the location without asking which quadrant of the city Mills was dying, and sent an ambulance to Rhode Island Ave., NW. Even though the caller corrected the dispatcher, an ambulance was still sent pointlessly to the wrong side of town. Nearly 15 minutes after Mills’s condition was first reported, no ambulance had arrived at the correct location, although a police unit had, which ultimately flagged down an ambulance.

Along with the report, officials also released one of the 911 calls from the scene, in which Mills’s daughter, Marie, can be heard screaming for help.

“It’s harsh, it’s cruel, it made me go back to that day,” Marie Mills said of reading the report about her father’s death. “My dad loved this city, and when he needed them they weren’t there.”

Although the report from Quander’s office paints a damning image of the city’s first responders and recommends that the responsible fire fighters and dispatchers be disciplined, it does not say how. Marie Mills declined to say what specific remedies she is seeking, but suggested that some involved should probably lose their jobs. “If I didn’t do my job, I would be let go,” she said.

The DC Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on Mills’s death next Monday.

Final Rhode Island Report

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.