DENVER (KDVR) — Two Denver firefighters are being suspended without pay after mispronouncing a woman as dead even though she was still alive.
According to an order of disciplinary action from the Denver Department of Public Safety, firefighter Marshall Henry was helping DPD on June 24 to check the welfare of a woman who was last heard from five days prior.
An officer with DPD forcibly entered the home where they found a woman they described as having bluish-purple discoloration in the skin, fluid leaking and smelling of decomposition, according to the order.
According to a statement from Lieutenant Patrick Lopez, who was also on scene, the officers returned from the home and said, “you do not need to go inside; I don’t want any of you filling out a witness statement today. She is obviously dead.”
Based on this information heard by Henry and under specific directions given to him by Lopez, Henry called the Denver Health Medical Center Emergency Department to obtain a field pronouncement of death, according to the order.
Prior to the call, no DFD personnel performed a patient assessment on the woman.
According to the order, the officer denied telling the fire personnel to not go into the home. Instead, the officer said that when he returned from assessing the home he witnessed the firefighters already on the phone obtaining a field pronouncement.
Henry said that when Lopez handed him the phone, the line was already ringing. When the emergency department picked up, Henry described the woman’s condition to the doctor as being in “an advanced state of death” and that it was “verified by police,” even though he did not personally perform a primary assessment on the woman, according to disciplinary paperwork.
“The doctor asked clarifying questions about the patient’s condition and Henry deliberately misrepresented himself to the doctor as being next to the patient and as having performed a patient assessment,” the Department of Safety said in the disciplinary action document.
The doctor provided Henry with a pronouncement and a time of death.
According to the document, DFD left the scene after the call with the emergency department and a DPD officer went back inside the home to assess the scene and noticed the woman was moving. DFD returned to the house and helped transport the woman to the hospital.
Henry said he realized his mistake and notified his district chief and an EMS educator.
After the incident, Henry provided a written statement to the DFD’s assistant chief and acknowledged that he made a mistake by admitting information to the doctor without having done any visual or physical exam.
“Firefighter Henry stated that he should have gone and checked for a pulse. ‘I will never trust what a cop says again,'” according to the written statement.
Henry was given a total of a 10-shift suspension without pay or a fine. Lopez was demoted from lieutenant to firefighter and was given a 14-shift suspension without pay.