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Mass. Office of EMS investigates ambulance service after death of 2-year-old girl

Officials said the mutual aid system has “repeatedly” pulled Winthrop ambulances into other communities

By Susannah Sudborough

WINTHROP, Mass. — A state agency is investigating a town’s ambulance service following the death of a 2-year-old girl taken to a hospital in a fire vehicle when no ambulances were available, according to officials.

Authorities said previously that the Winthrop girl’s mother called 911 around 10 a.m. on Friday, leading police and firefighters to respond to a home on Pleasant Street. When they arrived, they found the toddler, who had been ill recently, unresponsive and in a life-threatening condition.

First responders rushed the girl to Massachusetts General Hospital in the back of the Winthrop fire chief’s vehicle, but she died at the hospital, authorities said. While police found no signs of trauma or evidence of foul play, the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office will make a final determination on the toddler’s manner and cause of death.

According to a Monday evening press release from Winthrop officials, the toddler had to be taken in the back of the fire chief’s vehicle because no ambulances were available to respond at the time of the 911 call. As a result, the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services is now investigating the incident, though it is unclear whether the lack of an ambulance response contributed to the girl’s death.

Ambulance service in Winthrop is provided by Action Ambulances, which keeps two ambulances in the town, officials said. A preliminary investigation of the incident indicates that both ambulances were taking other patients to hospitals when the 911 call came in, and that no mutual aid ambulances were available.

Under state law, if an ambulance from one community is needed in another, it cannot decline the call or divert its response because of an emergency in its home community. Despite this, officials said, the mutual aid system has “repeatedly” pulled Winthrop ambulances into other communities, leaving the town without adequate ambulance service.

On Monday afternoon, Winthrop’s town manager, town council president and police and fire chiefs met with Action Ambulance to discuss how the mutual aid system could be improved to heighten cooperation between local ambulance services. Officials said that, while the town is satisfied with Action Ambulance’s services, the parties also agreed to work on fixing staffing issues and on identifying additional resources that can be diverted to emergencies.

Winthrop’s town leadership plans on reaching out to state legislators to discuss how they might fix problems with the mutual aid system. In the meantime, officials said, Action Ambulance and town officials are cooperating with state agencies investigating the incident.

“Our hearts collectively pour out for the family in mourning today, and we pledge to be open and transparent with our residents and with state officials,” Town Manager Anthony Marino said in the release.

MassLive reported previously that the toddler was found in the home of 56-year-old James Feeley, a Winthrop police officer who was charged with child rape and indecent assault last month. Feeley is on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

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