Someone Has To Pay

I don’t often write about my work as an EMT; if I do, I only write about other incidents in other states. This is one of those cases, one I cannot ignore any longer.

Much has been made of an incident in New York on December 9 of last year. Two EMT-B’s from FDNY, Jason Green and Melissa Jackson, were on their way out the door at the Au Bon Pain at Metrocenter Plaza when an employee of the restaurant approached them and told them that one of her co-workers was having difficulty breathing. They told the employee to call 911. Jackson made the first call, telling a dispatcher that a woman of unknown age was having difficulty breathing. Both were in uniform.

A lot has been said about this case since it happened. Thanks to the inability of the media to verify facts before reporting something, we largely don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. We know how the family feels. We know that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg was disgusted when the story broke. When asked if city employees were experiencing burnout, he exploded, saying, “there’s no excuse whatsoever!” I could tell mr. Bloomberg where to shove his self-righteous indignation but it would be unprofessional of me.

Bloggers and media reporters alike have called Green and Jackson lazy, cruel, heartless, cold, and inhuman. EMT’s and paramedics from all over the country have ripped into both of them, saying it is unconscionable that they left without providing care (and those are just the nicer ones; those who believe that their flatulence has no odor have posted far worse in the ems/fire/rescue blogs). So, what’s my opinion?

Both the unbaptized public and the professional EMS service have been far too hard on Green and Jackson.

We don’t know the true circumstances of what was going on. Several news agencies have painted a picture that pregnant Eutisha Rennix, an employee of the restaurant, collapsed right in front of them and was gasping for air when they cold-heartedly turned their backs on her. Others have said the pair was sitting down. What I’ve actually been told by others actually in EMS in New York is that Rennix had gone to the back, away from customers, when she began feeling ill and a coworker came out to ask the EMT’s what to do. That’s not all I’m going on, though.

The two EMT’s weren’t driving an ambulance rig that was waiting outside. They were dispatchers working in the building directly above the restaurant. Without an ambulance handy, they had no specialized equipment. No BSI (body substance isolation) gear, nothing. They didn’t even have an oxygen tank to help. What were they expected to do? I’ve been in a couple of situations where I’ve either been at the scene of an accident or someone has started having trouble breathing, and someone says, “please help!” I can’t do anything without the equipment I’m trained to use. I end up standing there like an idiot going, “um…there’s nothing I can do.” Then, when an ambulance actually does arrive, I’m just in the way. I’m another body filling space that they need to work in.

Something else worth mentioning is their level of training. EMT-B’s are not paramedics. We’re BASIC medical providers. There’s a lot we can do, but there’s a lot that we can’t. EMT-B’s cannot provide breathing treatments with albuterol even if we have the equipment; that’s what our paramedic partners do. Once the treatment begins, we can monitor the patient for a change in vital signs to see if the treatment is having an effect, but we can’t give all the drugs and use the same toys that medics can.

Now…regardless of what I’ve heard or what you’ve heard from the news or people who say they heard this news from a reliable source, we can all agree on a few things that are facts. The EMT’s were in the restaurant. Eutisha Rennix was in respiratory distress. The EMT’s didn’t have an ambulance or equipment. The EMT’s would not have been able to do much of anything even if they had gone to see the patient. They certainly wouldn’t have been able to make the paramedic unit that was called arrive any faster. If they had stayed, Rennix likely still would have died, and the family would have wanted to sue the EMT’s for not having anything with them when they went to the restaurant.

The local anger over this incident is twofold. First of all, the family is angry that Eutisha is dead. If it were my family, I’d be upset, too. They, like many other families I’ve seen in the press, have been too quick to blame the EMS service that was charged with helping because the situation didn’t end the way they wanted it to. We never want to lose our loved ones. But just as the family of a violent felon cannot blame the police officer who kills him to avoid being shot himself, I say families need to stop blaming EMS for bad outcomes that we can’t help. God knows we all live with the faces of those we couldn’t help for the rest of our lives. We don’t deserve to be threatened with losing our livelihood. We also don’t deserve to have to second-guess ourselves because we’ve been sued for similar situations before.

The second part of the local anger is from the city leaders and politicians. As they frequently do, they’ve again inserted themselves into a situation that they know little about because of public outrage. Why is the public so angry? Because they heard bits and pieces of a story and they don’t understand it all. The politicians are now reacting based on people calling them in that rage. To a degree, they’re doing what comes naturally to them. I would really like to know what is so difficult about these politicians asking people to wait until the whole story has come out before they pass judgment. Even more, I’d like to know how these politicians sleep at night after they tear down the career of a person who may well be innocent before they know all the facts.

For a couple of weeks afterward, we heard quite a bit. The story dropped off the collective MSM radar until yesterday, when EMT Jason Green was shot to death outside a popular Soho nightclub called the Greenhouse. If NYPD expects us all to believe the shooting had nothing to do with the Rennix incident, they’re deluding themselves.


14 thoughts on “Someone Has To Pay

  1. People (and politicians) should wait for the facts before jumping to a conclusion? They wouldn’t get their name in the news because finding out what actually happened takes too long.
    Plus, I have noticed that many people cannot accept that bad things happen. There isn’t always a reason and there doesn’t have to be. I think many have been led to believe that every death, injury, accident is preventable. Life isn’t a TV medical show.
    I confess I had forgotten about the case too. Thanks for keeping up with it.
    AndyB, NH.

  2. Plus, I have noticed that many people cannot accept that bad things happen. There isn’t always a reason and there doesn’t have to be. I think many have been led to believe that every death, injury, accident is preventable. Life isn’t a TV medical show.

    Very astute observation.

    I tell people that life isn’t safe, it never was. It’s not meant to be.

    I don’t know the facts in this case. I’ll admit that it does make me feel hinky, just because even when there’s nothing that can be done, there’s usually still something that can be done. Even if it doesn’t work.

    It was going to be an ugly situation no matter how it shook down. If they had changed her positions to try to facilitate better breathing, she still would have died waiting for the equipment. But I have trouble with them calling in and then moving on.

  3. Here’s my take on the situation…

    Let’s say this is me. I’m in uniform, standing in line at Starbucks when an employee comes and tells me that one of his coworkers is pregnant and having trouble breathing.

    Let’s say I go to the back of the store where this employee is and see her laying on the floor, gasping for air. There’s a few things I have to consider: first, she’s very pregnant, and rolling her onto her back may well shut off circulation through her abdominal aorta. I don’t want her on her back. Second, I want to know what happened. I ask the coworker and he says she has asthma but doesn’t have her inhaler.

    Okay…so now I know she’s pregnant, she has asthma, nobody knows where her inhaler is, and she’s having difficulty breathing. I have no equipment, meaning I have no stethoscope. I can’t ascultate lung sounds to find out for sure, so I’m going on what I’ve been told. I ask her how her breathing feels, and she’s only answering me in one- or two-word snippets before she has to inhale again.

    Now what do I do? I’m not on duty. I don’t have an ambulance outside, just my personal vehicle. I just got off shift. I obviously call 911 and request an ALS unit to my location, give them the best information I can, but the neighborhood around me is locked tight in rush hour.

    The most I can do at this point is monitor her breathing and possibly begin CPR if she stops breathing. When a person is having an asthma attack – as Rennix is reported to have been experiencing according to the coroner – repositioning her wouldn’t have helped. She needed a breathing treatment with at least albuterol, possibly a mix, in order to open her bronchioles again to allow oxygen to enter her system.

    In that sort of situation, I certainly would have gone back to look. Once I did assess the patient I would have been required by law in my state to remain on scene until another equipped unit arrives to take over for me.

    Yes, we can all say that they could have at least stayed with her, but we can’t get angry with them for leaving. For all we know, the coworker who asked them what to do didn’t properly convey the distress she was in. I’m betting that’s the case.

  4. “For all we know, the coworker who asked them what to do didn’t properly convey the distress she was in. I’m betting that’s the case.”

    I agree. I work in finance. I am not in the EMT or medical field. If someone told me someone nearby was having trouble breathing, I’d tell that person to call 911 and I would go take a look and see what else I could do. But, that’s me. The words “having trouble breathing” have a profound impact on me.

    But in the same situation if someone said, “He/she is short of breath.” Then that could bring a totally different response. For all I know that person ran from one place to the place they are at and they are worn out from the sprint. I’d probably ask, “Why is this person short of breath? Is this person all right?”

    It’s not what you say but how you say it.

  5. Another point I’d like to make. I used to be a swimmer. When you learn to swim you learn water safety. When someone is having trouble in the water, the last thing you do is jump in. Jumping in can make a bad situation worse. Instead you try to help them by extending an object they can grab. You can also toss the person a lifejacket, life ring, of even an inner tube. Even a soccer ball or football can help keep a person’s head above water.

    So sometimes the action you expect from someone with knowledge is not what they will do. What they do is the correct thing even if it is not the expected thing.

    BTW, you don’t jump in to save a person who is drowing unless there is no other choice. A drowing person can accidentally drown you as you try to save them.

  6. Mel, I 100% see your point. But also, I know that even if you didn’t see anything you could do other than possibly administer CPR if the situation called for it. I can’t see you leaving the scene when you notice someone is in distress. Even if the situation seems hopeless.

    I certainly don’t think that it rises to the level of criminality – because they didn’t have a legal responsibility. But I do wonder how someone could just walk away. It seems very Kitty Genovese-ish.

    If they weren’t properly informed of the actual situation, it makes a lot more sense. I don’t know any First Responders who can just walk away from something like that.

  7. “I don’t know any First Responders who can just walk away from something like that.”

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

    You and I AFW are off duty EMT’s. We don’t have any equipment to help someone in distress. We do what we can and wait for the EMT’s with equipment to show up.

    So onlookers scream, “Aren’t you two going to do something? Why are you just rolling her over or watching her gasp for air?”

    The EMT’s arrive and lend assistance. The person lives to tell. But the onlookers gab to the media how you and I just stood there and did nothing.

  8. No, I get all that, John. And I totally understand that I don’t know what really happened.

    The reason why it bothers me that the current story is that they walked away after saying they could do nothing is because I really don’t know any 1st Responders who would have done that. And I know 1st Responders who have been shot at (or rather, that shots were fired) while they worked over someone trying to save them.

    So what I meant by that was not, “LYNCH THEM!”, it was that it didn’t sound like any 1st Responders I’ve ever met. If they did just walk away, I don’t think they’re very good people. That doesn’t mean I think they should be legally liable.

  9. Agree on all counts from an EMT’s stand point… I do have to also agree with AFW about the simple nature of goodness… and that is that…
    However what about the new killing? Is this what we can expect now… Should I be more paranoid about wearing my Crisis Responder uniform with the Fire Department emblem? I mean there is very little I can do in medical situations… yet I still am representing the Fire Department… I would have not been able to do anything except provide support for the person witnessing the woman in distress… I could have talked with her (the woman in distress) but would that have made her breathing better?… All I know is that I would not want to be shot to death coming out of a club because it is said I did not do enough…
    Should our “heroes” now live in fear because of the circumstances of calls going badly?

  10. @Case – I think people have misunderstandings about what EMT’s can and can’t do and when they can do what they do. There is plenty of ignorance out there.

  11. Case, to some degree we already do. That’s why EMT’s and medics have medical direction. We don’t want to get sued. Yet we still often do, usually because a situation turned out badly despite our best efforts.

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  13. I am an RN in California. The law states that if you are on a coeffe break which lasts no more than 15 minutes, it is on company time and you are required to respond to an emergency. If you are on your lunch-break, that is unpaid time and you are off the clock, not on company time and not required to respond. The EMT s were on a coeffe break and were on company time and should have responded. If health-care providers were mandated by law to respond to every emergency whether they were on company time or not, our job would last 24 hours!!!! Where is the moral ethic in that? I deserve a break too, considering what I do for a living. Come on folks!!!

  14. II’m a retired P>O> We were paid for our lunch time, toerefhre, we must take action in an emergency. When you are in uniform, you will draw people on/off duty. They two could have gone to the back to verify the severity of the illness and better assist the responding EMS. Image is everything. Since it was just a coffeebreak not full blown lunch, it wouldn’t have hurt. Although you feel you would be on duty 24-7, think how you would feel if it was YOUR daughter and they did nothing else to help.

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