Suspended Stafford County volunteer firefighters reinstated

Two volunteer Stafford County firefighters who were taken off duty after they transported an 18-month-old child to the hospital in a fire engine have been returned to operational status Monday afternoon, fire officials said.

Captain James Kelley and Sgt. Virgil Bloom, both volunteers for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department in Fredericksburg, responded to a McDonald's restaurant at 11:11 a.m. on Feb. 27 for an infant suffering from a seizure. A paramedic transport unit was also dispatched for the emergency call.

Kelley, who is a D.C. firefighter and also volunteers in Stafford County, told FOX 5's Alexandra Limon he immediately told the driver of the truck to turn on the engine because the little girl 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, and when he asked for a location from the nearest medic, he got an answer that didn't give any specifics.

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 father of the little girl told FOX 5 he is grateful for the actions of those two first responders, who may have saved his daughter's life.

According to the volunteer firefighters, they were suspended by the county after the incident. 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 said he didn't violate a written county policy. He is also upset because he said that in D.C., where he works full-time as a firefighter, he would be honored for his actions--but in this case, he was being punished.

In a statement sent to FOX 5 on Saturday, 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."

After a review was conducted, the two firefighters were reinstated on Monday.

Stafford County Fire and Rescue Chief Mark Lockhart said, "The care provided to the patient was not the question. Our focus has been on the decision to transport the patient in the fire truck. The decision to transport in the fire truck was based on the information available to the officer in charge at the time and his assessment finding. We did, however, find that the department medical protocol for this type of patient was not followed and that will be addressed with the individuals involved."

Lockhart said the child was wearing a seat belt in the fire engine on the way to the hospital. She was also being held by the firefighters.

However, Chief Lockhart would not say whether the two firefighters did the right thing. When we asked and pressed him on this issue and what he would have done in that situation, he evaded the questions and said it was unfair for him to comment in hindsight.

Capt. Kelley told FOX 5 he is glad to be able to get back on a fire truck.

"I'm just happy to be on active status and be able to protect the citizens of Stafford County," he said.

When we asked Kelley whether he would have done the same thing again in that situation, he told us, "Ten out of ten times. Doing the right thing is the right thing. That's all I can say. My decision was my decision and I feel it was the best decision at the time."

The fire chief said this issue still has to be reviewed by the Virginia's Office of Emergency Medical Services, which is normal protocol in a case like this.

Jason Pelt, the attorney for Kelley and Bloom, has filed a request for all documentation from the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department on their review and anything else related to this incident.

"We are going to take time to review that and the legal matter we can take to better the EMS service in the county, we will do that," said Pelt.

A Facebook page called Reinstate Our Heroes Stafford was started in support of Kelley and Bloom. The woman who started it told FOX 5's Alexandra Limon she doesn't know the firefighters personally, but she is an EMT in Stafford County. She started the page after seeing so many people asking on social media what could be done to help the firefighters.

ORIGINAL STORY: Stafford Co. volunteer firefighters suspended for transporting child to hospital in fire engine