Union questions private EMS for city after hospital run
The decision by an emergency medical crew Sunday to drive a Detroit police officer with a gunshot wound to a Dearborn hospital instead of two closer facilities has caused a firestorm in the Detroit Fire Department.
A 14-year Detroit police veteran was shot in the face Sunday night after responding to a domestic violence call. He remains in critical condition.
An emergency crew from Romulus-based Rapid Response, a private firm that has a contract with Detroit, treated the officer and drove him to Beaumont Hospital, Oakwood, although Henry Ford Hospital and Sinai Grace Hospital were closer.
The choice to transport the officer to the farther hospital was questioned, but Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said the EMT went to Oakwood because the drive was mostly on the freeway, a quicker route than to the two closer facilities.
The incident has prompted Detroit Fire Fighters Association union president Mike Nevin to send Jones a letter, questioning whether private EMS companies like Rapid Response should continue transporting wounded firefighters. Nevin requested a meeting with Jones about the issue.
Rapid Response CEO Tommy Widmer defended his company, saying Sunday’s incident is being “twisted” by some “to meet their own individual agendas.”
A Rapid Response crew was at the center of another controversy in October, after concerns were raised over whether an EMT gave hospital staff the correct information about a wounded Detroit firefighter who had fallen through the floor of a burning Highland Park house, Jones said.
Days after that incident, fire department officials sent an email to dispatchers advising: “Effective immediately, Detroit Fire Fighters will be transported by Detroit EMS only.”
The Oct. 14 2016 email, titled: “DETROIT EMS RESPOND TO (HIGHLAND PARK) AND HAMTRAMCK ONLY,” ordered: “This means when Detroit Fire Fighters are responding to runs in Highland Park or Hamtramck send Detroit EMS to stand by.”
Prior to the directive, the four private firms that contract with Detroit usually were dispatched to mutual aid incidents outside the city when an ambulance was requested ahead of time.
Jones sent an email to staff Thursday night clarifying the department’s policy, because he said some have recently misrepresented the October message to mean private companies should never treat wounded firefighters.
“Detroit Emergency Medical Services will stage, and transport if necessary, for all incidents where we know in advance that there is a potential need for medical care, such as requests by the incident commander at box alarms, commercial box alarms or any other event that the (incident commander) deems appropriate for staging (Detroit EMS),” Jones wrote. “This will also apply for requests by (Detroit police) at the scene of barricaded persons, etc.
“On the other hand, if you are critically wounded or injured I have directed (dispatchers) to send the nearest medical resource,” Jones wrote.
Jones told The News the October memo was not meant to disparage Rapid Response.
“We had an issue with Rapid Response in October, but that has nothing to do with their overall ability to provide care,” Jones said. “They’ve been doing the job.”
Jones said the October memo was sent out at the request of the firefighters’ union.
“The union asked if we could use Detroit EMS for situations where it was known ahead of time an emergency crew would be staged, and we agreed,” he said. “If a firefighter is shot, you think I’m going to let him bleed out while we wait for a Detroit EMS to get there? That’s not going to happen. This is being misrepresented.”
Jones told WJBK-TV (Channel 2) earlier this week the issues with Rapid Response had been cleared up. That statement prompted Nevin to write a letter to Jones Wednesday, requesting a private meeting.
“I was surprised by your public statements to the press that department protocol you put in place on October 14 2016 after learning about the deplorable treatment of a Detroit Firefighter has now (been) and/or was rescinded,” Nevin wrote. “(The union) was never notified of said action.
“On October 14 2016 we collaboratively agreed that when responding to Highland Park or Hamtramck the department would expand our historical protocol to include (Detroit EMS) on incidents that occur outside Detroit’s city limits ... for the protection, safeguarding and/or top level care and transport of our Firefighters in the event of a tragic occurrence.
“The Firefighters applauded your action and a feeling that true concern for our safety was understood at that time. When it was publicly reported that your October 14 2016 order has/had been rescinded, and that your office is confident in the unknown abilities of personnel that are on those rigs, level of training, level of licensure, or level of lifesaving experience, as well as no knowledge of rig maintenance ... I stand .. in shock and disbelief,” Nevin wrote.
Jones disputed the claims in Nevin’s letter.
“We have contracts with four medical providers to provide three ambulances each, and you can’t operate in the city or the state without being certified by the state,” Jones said. “So any allegations saying they aren’t certified or trained are absolutely false.”
Jones also denied he rescinded his October 2016 order.
“I never said that. The directive I sent still stands: When we know in advance to provide (an EMS crew for) mutual aid (in Highland Park and Hamtramck), we’ll send Detroit EMS. All I said (to the television station) is that if someone is injured, we’ll use the nearest medical resource, which is common sense. I’m not going to make an injured firefighter wait when there’s another ambulance available. That doesn’t even make sense. Why would I put our people in danger like that?”
In his email Thursday to his employees, Jones wrote: “I care deeply about you and your safety and would never in any manner knowingly jeopardize your well being.”
Nevin declined to comment to The News about the letter. “It will be handled within the fire department,” he said.
Widmer said in a statement his company is being unfairly portrayed.
“It is most unfortunate that certain individuals have taken this tragic incident and twisted it to meet their own individual agendas with unfounded, untrue, blasphemous and anonymous accusations,” Widmer wrote.
“Our EMTs and paramedics are highly trained to make split-second, life and death decisions,” Widmer wrote. “Rapid Response has proudly served the City of Detroit for 10 years.”