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Denver lieutenant, FF-EMT suspended after requesting death pronouncement for woman who was still alive

During a welfare check, the firefighters found a woman who appeared to be deceased and reported this to a doctor, but neither had assessed the patient


Photo/Denver Fire Department

By Leila Merrill
FireRescue1/EMS1 Staff

DENVER — Two Denver firefighters have been suspended without pay after they asked a doctor to declare a woman dead when she was in fact alive, the Denver Post reported.

The Denver Department of Public Safety’s disciplinary action order states that Lt. Patrick Lopez and Firefighter-EMT Marshall Henry went with police officers on June 24 for a welfare check. A caller said he had not heard from his daughter recently and she had just had stomach surgery.

“One of the officers went inside to check on the woman, came out and said the woman had lividity (bluish-purple discoloration of the skin seen on a deceased person) and fluid leaking from her body, and that she smelled like she was decomposing,” 9news reported.

Lopez then called the number for the on-call emergency department physician at Denver Health Medical Center to get a pronouncement of death. Lopez gave Henry the phone as it was ringing.

Henry shared the police officer’s description of the woman, saying “she is bloated and obviously dead,” according to the letter.

The doctor asked him whether she had a pulse. Henry said no. When asked about signs of trauma, Henry also answered no to the question even though he had not assessed the patient.

The doctor pronounced her dead.

After the firefighters left, Officer Eugene McComas, the police officer who had gone into the home earlier, went back inside and saw the woman move.

He called the firefighters and an ambulance to the home, and she was transported to a hospital.

Lopez has apologized for his mistake, the Post reported.

Lopez, who has served with the department for 22 years, was demoted by two ranks from lieutenant to firefighter and has been informed that he will serve 336 hours of unpaid suspension. If he breaks another department rule within five years, he will be fired. And during that time, he will be ineligible for a promotion.

Henry must serve 240 hours of unpaid suspension, and his EMT certification was suspended.

“The integrity of the city heavily relies upon the faith and confidence of the public in its public safety services,” Mary Dulacki, chief deputy executive director of the Denver Department of Public Safety, wrote in letters describing the firefighters’ misconduct. “The embarrassing failure to the patient in this incident demonstrated an obvious compromise to that integrity.”