Investigation reveals fire dept. staff trained on newly deceased person

Officials said several department members practiced multiple intubations on a body that was awaiting transport to a funeral home


For more on this topic, read EMS1 columnist David Givot's expert take on training for first responders while following the letter of the law. 

By David Rasbach
The Bellingham Herald

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A Bellingham Fire Department veteran officer retired and another resigned after an investigation revealed a deceased patient in July was taken to Fire Station 1 to await pick up from a funeral home and several department members, including a division chief and EMS captains, practiced multiple intubations on the body, according to information provided by City of Bellingham Communications Director Vanessa Blackburn.

“In early August, I first learned of an incident at Bellingham Fire Department Station 1 during which department personnel successively performed a medical procedure, endotracheal intubation, on a deceased person,” Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Newbold said in a prepared statement in response to questions from The Bellingham Herald. “This incident was neither normal nor acceptable.

Officials said several Bellingham Fire Department members practiced multiple intubations on a body that was awaiting transport to a funeral home. (Photo/BFD)
Officials said several Bellingham Fire Department members practiced multiple intubations on a body that was awaiting transport to a funeral home. (Photo/BFD)

“The chief officer directing this activity was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a complete and thorough investigation. The investigation confirmed to me that the actions of the personnel involved were unacceptable and constitute serious misconduct.”

According to Blackburn, the chief officer directing the activity wrongly believed that the situation was an appropriate training opportunity.

Bellingham Fire personnel did not seek nor did they receive permission to perform the procedure from the deceased’s family, Blackburn said, and direction was only provided by the chief officer present.

“That direction was inappropriate and inconsistent with our expectations of chief officers,” Blackburn said.

Two office staff personnel also were involved in the incident, Blackburn said.

“These actions stand to violate the trust between our department and the community we serve, which we have earned through over a century of exemplary service,” Newbold said. “Going forward, the firefighters, paramedics and staff of the Bellingham Fire Department will continue to work hard in service to our community.

“Our professional, well-trained personnel constantly endeavor to be responsible stewards of the public’s trust, and we are working to repair any breach of this trust through review of appropriate policies and procedures and to ensure all our employees’ actions are in alignment with our mission.”

In addition to the two officers who are no longer with the department, Blackburn said the remainder of the staff involved received suspension without pay or letters in their personnel files, depending on their involvement.

Names of the officers involved were not released, though the officer who retired had been with the department 28 years and the officer who resigned was a 23-year veteran of the department.

“I was very disturbed when I found out about the incident and appreciate that Fire Chief Bill Newbold responded swiftly to the allegations of misconduct by our personnel,” Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said in a prepared statement. “We took it very seriously, taking the steps to make sure that the people who were responsible have been held accountable.

“What happened was wrong and I want to assure the community that it won’t happen again. I am confident that Chief Newbold will take the appropriate measures to continue providing our community the high level of Fire and EMS service you expect.”

Copyright 2018 The Bellingham Herald

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