FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - Two volunteer Stafford County firefighters have been suspended after they transported an 18-month old child to the hospital in a fire engine. The father of the little girl tells FOX 5 he is grateful for the actions of those two first responders, who may have saved his daughter's life.
The suspended firefighters, Captain James Kelley and Sgt. Virgil Bloom, volunteer for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department in Fredericksburg. They were the first to arrive when called to a location near a McDonald's restaurant last Saturday because the child was having a seizure, Kelley said.
FOX 5's Paul Wagner spoke to Kelley, who is a D.C. firefighter who also volunteers in Stafford County, about the incident on Saturday. Kelley said he immediately told the driver of the truck to turn on the engine because the child was in dire need of a hospital. Based on a previous call location for the nearest medic, Kelley said he thought it would be at least 10 to 15 minutes before one could arrive at the restaurant.
Kelley said he asked for a location from the nearest medic, but didn't receive a specific answer until after his second request, and even then, the information he got was "southbound on Route 1," without any other specifics. Kelley also said he asked for mutual aid from the city of Fredericksburg, but no one was ever dispatched.
After the child was put into the fire engine and they were en route to Mary Washington Hospital, Kelley says another ambulance requested to meet up with the engine at Falmouth Station--but because of his proximity to the hospital at that point, Kelley denied that request.
According to Kelley, the child was put on oxygen in the fire engine and was in the trauma room within 13 minutes of the time the call came in. The little girl had paralysis on the entire left side of her body. Her father told Wagner on Saturday that she's going to be just fine.
The little girl's father, Brian Nunamaker spoke to Wagner on Saturday about the incident, one week after it occurred. He said around 11 am on February 27, his youngest daughter experienced a medical emergency as they were making their way home from running errands. He pulled over just past the McDonalds restaurant located at Ferry Farm. When he realized his daughter was having a seizure, he called 911. He also said a passerby stopped to help.
"As a parent, you feel extremely helpless to be unable to assist the most important person in the world (your child) during such a time of emergency," Nunamaker wrote in a statement he shared with Wagner by email. "Worst case scenarios run through your head while you are hoping for the best. The eternity of waiting for help to arrive was surprisingly non-existent in this situation. I was surprised at how quickly help had arrived in the form of a fire truck."
Nunamaker said his daughter's symptoms changed, and she was limp when he handed her to fire rescue personnel. She was still breathing with a pulse, and Nunamaker said the firefighters stopped for just a few seconds, asked a few questions, and then put his daughter in the truck and took off to get her to the hospital.
When Nunamaker arrived at the hospital, his daughter was having another seizure in the emergency room. It soon stopped, but doctors were concerned about possible paralysis on her left side. After that, Nunamaker said, his daughter was transferred to VCU and later discharged. She's home now, and is doing fine and acting like nothing ever happened.
"The neurologists at VCU explained that timing is extremely important when reacting to seizures," Nunamaker said. "My wife and I are extremely grateful for the assistance provided by the first responders, 911 operator, medical staff at Mary Washington and VCU, and the passerby that stopped by to assist."
This weekend, Nunamaker tells FOX 5, he had hoped to put the ordeal behind them, but then he heard the news of the two volunteer first responders being suspended for the actions they took during his daughter's emergency.
"My wife and I feel terrible for the fallout that has happened to these two gentlemen," Nunamaker said in his statement to FOX 5. "They simply had the best interests for our daughter's care in mind. We are extremely thankful they made the decisions they did, and that our daughter is back home with us doing well. The actions of these men represent a dedication to their mission, and a deep concern of doing what is best for the people they are serving. In our eyes, they are heroes.
After the incident, both Kelley and Bloom were suspended by the county. According to Kelley, his fire engine is licensed as a "non-transport unit," and doesn't have the proper restraints and medications that medic units have. But, Kelley also says he didn't violate a written county policy.
In his conversation with Wagner on Saturday, Kelley said when this kind of situation occurs in the District, where he works, the responding firefighters are praised. But when it happens in Stafford County, they are suspended.
In a statement sent to FOX 5, a Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said, "A potential regulatory compliance issue is under review by the Fire and Rescue Department and the Virginia Department of Health. Therefore, we are unable to comment on this issue."
Most people who answered a Twitter poll about the situation said they thought the firefighters should not have been suspended.