When Firefighters Fail to Respond

Medric “Cecil” Mills Jr., 77, suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed right across the street from a D.C. firehouse, but no one came to help.

There don’t seem to be too many facts in contention here.

Medric Cecil Mills a 77-year-old District Parks & Recreation employee for most of his life, was walking with his daughter along Rhode Island Avenue, NE, when he collapsed. She ran into a store to ask them to call 911, and while others approached a firehouse which could be seen from the sidewalk where Mills collapsed. They knocked on the door, but the people inside refused to come. Several people knocked on the door. A dispatcher in the meantime reportedly sent another fire engine to an address in Northwest.

The critical issue was simple. Mills died. The D.C. firefighters in the firehouse did not come to his aid. A lawsuit seems likely. People were appalled. Firemen in the house, including the probationary fireman who apparently said he could not do anything without asking his superior, are being questioned. Fire Department officials as well as Mayor Vincent Gray called Mills’s family to express their concerns. Paul Quander, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, said that he was”quite disturbed and disappointed by what appears to be an inappropriate response.” Gray said, “… frankly, on its face, it’s really hard to accept what happened here.”

Something should be done, someone should be held to account. Mills did not deserve this kind of neglect and apparent negligence. Nobody does.

But there’s more to it than that, sad as that is. There’s an issue of trust here in a fire department that has been steeped in controversy over the last year or so. In almost any city, any neighborhood, people love, admire and trust the firemen who work for the city. They are underpaid, put their life at risk for the rest of the citizenry, and often, too often, die doing their impossibly difficult jobs. We count on them for help.

I live in a neighborhood which has a firehouse almost as its center, a seamless part of the streets, the sirens rushing out to fires and dangers, the firemen known and respected well enough to greet. We just assume they’re there to help. I’ve watched them come to a local fire with speed and courage.

On one occasion, when I suffered a deep cut on a finger which bled profusely, I couldn’t think of anything else to do except to run to the firehouse a block away. Two EMS personnel happened to be there and cleaned and washed my wound and bandaged it.
I’ve never forgotten that even though the personnel have changed in the firehouse. I just assume they’ll be there unless they’re out on a call, that they’ll help when asked, or even when not.

This time they were asked.

No one came.

That hurts everybody.

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