WASHINGTON - D.C. law says firefighters should be held accountable for their actions, but the D.C. fire department has not been following that law all because of a loophole that you need to know about.
Ignoring the law allowed a firefighter to retire after he made a mistake that may have contributed to the death of a toddler. He will get his full pension and receive no discipline for the incident.
D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean said on Tuesday that he had no excuse for not enacting the regulations required by law that would have forced Lt. Guy Valentine to face a disciplinary process before being allowed to retire.
According to investigators, Valentine heard a call go out on March 18 for a choking child just three blocks from his station, but failed to take the call.
In a report released to the public, Valentine said he did not take the call because he was not dispatched and he did not know the house on Warren Street where the toddler was in distress was just three blocks away. The firehouse where he was assigned is at the corner of Warren Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
The report says the lieutenant’s engine with a paramedic on board was not dispatched because a communications tablet installed in the engine had become disconnected and dispatchers at the 911 center did not know the engine was in service at the station.
Still, investigators concluded the lieutenant heard the emergency on the radio and should have taken the call.
"Our goal is to find a way to correct this, make it right for the family and for the city, but at the same time, we accept responsibility,” said Chief Dean. “We have a move forward, we’ve got the regulations, we are having our legal team go through that and put them in place.”
The toddler, Martin Cuesta, was on life support for several days before he died. His father told us on Monday that he is extremely upset and sickened to hear no one will be held accountable for his son’s death.
The D.C. Council voted unanimously in 2014 to hold firefighters accountable for their actions and prevent them from retiring before facing discipline. The law was enacted last year, but the fire department failed to abide by the rules and did not adopt the regulations as required by the council.
"This has been a continuing problem that the council has had with the executive, meaning the mayor and all of the executive branch agencies, for the last 40 years,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “They often times think that they can avoid the full effect of legislation by avoiding issuing rules.”
“I cannot tell you how disappointing and even maddening it is, not only for this instance and this instance is a bad case of it, allowing this loophole to continue,” said D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). “But the council encounters this so many times where we have agencies that simply don't do what they are told to do. Don't do what the law requires them to do and this is another instance of it.”
The city council enacted the law after another lieutenant avoided discipline and retired with full benefits despite facing very serious charges for not going to the aid of Cecil Mills, a man who collapsed across the street from her firehouse and later died.