Home Blunders Denver firefighters suspended after declaring woman dead, who officers later found moving

Denver firefighters suspended after declaring woman dead, who officers later found moving

Denver Fire Department Station 19. Credit: Google Maps.

Daniella Segura

The Charlotte Observer

After firefighters declared a Colorado woman dead, a police officer reentered the home to check for weapons.

While Denver police officer Eugene McComas was looking through the home on June 24, he “shone his flashlight” on the woman’s face, according to orders of disciplinary action dated Oct. 14 and Oct. 20 from the Denver Department of Public Safety.

Her head twitched, the orders said. The woman was not dead.

Now, two firefighters, fire Lt. Patrick Lopez and firefighter Marshall Henry, have been suspended after having declared the woman dead without entering the home or examining her, according to the orders.

“The Denver Fire Department took immediate action to address this incident and ensure the patient was transported and admitted to the hospital,” Captain J.D. Chism with the fire department said in an email to McClatchy News on Nov. 3. “Following a thorough review subject to DFD’s discipline process, those involved were appropriately disciplined.”

On that June day, emergency responders went to the home of a 57-year-old woman who recently had stomach surgery after her father requested a welfare check, the orders said. He had not heard from her in five days and normally spoke with her daily.

After leaving the home, McComas told the firefighters outside that the woman smelled of decomposition, was discolored and leaking fluids, the orders said.

Lopez, without going into the home or checking the woman, called Denver Health Medical Center for a declaration of death, the orders said.

He then handed off the phone to the “junior,” Henry, the orders said, who went on to tell the doctor the woman was in “an advanced state of death” without having checked on her. The orders said Henry also “misrepresented himself to the doctor” by saying he was next to the woman and that he had done “a patient assessment.”

“The doctor provided a pronouncement and time of death,” the orders said.

After the woman was found to be alive, the fire department and emergency medical services were called back to the home, and she was taken to a hospital, the orders said.

In his statement, Lopez said McComas told firefighters not to enter the home and that the woman was “obviously dead,” the orders said. But others do not recall McComas prohibiting anyone from entering the home, and McComas said he did not prohibit firefighters from going in the home.

Henry apologized during a hearing in September and said he had been “gifted this career” with the fire department. He said he actions “let down three families: the patient’s, his DFD family and his own.”

When Lopez obtained a declaration of death without assessing the woman, he “demonstrated a serious lack of the integrity, ethics, and character,” the order said. Additionally, he “failed to act as a good role model”and “offered no guidance or assistance to the junior firefighter to whom he handed the phone.”

Lopez, a 22-year veteran with the department, received a 336-hour unpaid suspension, the order said. He will also be demoted from lieutenant to firefighter, according to the order.

Over the next five years, Lopez will not be eligible for a promotion and will be fired should he break another rule, the order said.

Henry received a 240-hour unpaid suspension, the order said.

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