2 Ariz. firefighters suspended for punching patient

Suspensions were chosen because the firefighters had not been trained on how to handle a violent situation

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Two firefighters have been suspended without pay for punching a patient and cursing at him during an October medical call.

AZ Central reported that a captain was suspended for two days and a firefighter for one day after an investigation determined the men used excessive force to restrain patient James Murillo. Murillo punched the captain as his crew attempted to take him to the hospital.

A portion of the incident was captured on a cellphone video and was posted to YouTube.

Both firefighters told investigators that they punched Murillo, who was strapped to a gurney with his arms free, to defend themselves.

Fire Chief Mark Burdick said he chose suspensions because the firefighters had not been trained how to handle a violent situation. He also said that policy allows firefighters to protect themselves with any means necessary if police are not on scene.

"I don't want firefighters to strike a patient," Chief Burdick said. "I wanted to send a message that this won't be tolerated."

The two firefighters have been on reassignment, but will return to their regular positions once the suspension is up, according to the report.

"We look forward to this incident being over so that our firefighters can move forward," Joe Hester, president of the Glendale firefighter union, said. "One bad emergency call should not be the sum total of anyone's career as a public servant."

Murillo told investigators he wanted to fight the firefighters to avoid a trip to the hospital. Police submitted two counts of aggravated assault against Murillo for punching the firefighters.

Because of the incident, all sworn members must now take defensive training, which both men have already completed, according to the report.

"I've been a fire chief for 13 years and I've never had an incident like this," Burdick said. "We had never trained (them) on what to do if they are assaulted, and I own that."

There are also ongoing discussions about creating a department use-of-force policy, Burdick said.

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