A Virginia volunteer fire department reinstated two of its volunteer members who were suspended for taking a toddler to the hospital in their fire engine, officials said Monday.
The announcement of Capt. James Kelley and Sgt. Virgil Bloom's restoration to operational status as of 4 p.m. Monday came after the Stafford County Fire and Rescue department faced serious backlash for suspending the pair for what many said was a job well done.
Kelley and Bloom of the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department in Stafford County were first on the scene at a McDonald’s restaurant, where an 18-month-old girl was suffering a seizure on Feb. 27, according to reports.
When Kelley saw the child, he told FOX 5 he told the driver of the truck to start the engine and put her on oxygen as they rushed her to a nearby trauma room. The little girl was in the trauma room within 13 minutes of the 911 call, Kelley said.
Kelley, a D.C. firefighter who volunteers in Stafford County, told reporters he thought it would be at least 10 to 15 minutes before a medic would arrive and when he asked for a location from the nearest medic, he was given a vague answer.
But both Kelley and Bloom were suspended by the county, as the fire engine is licensed as a “non-transport unit” and does not have the proper restraints and medications that medic units had, Kelley told FOX 5.
"I want to make clear that the reason this situation came under review by our department is because of the way the patient was transported to the hospital, which involved a fire engine instead of an ambulance," Stafford County Fire and EMS Chief Mark Lockhart said at a press conference Monday.
"This is a highly unusual occurrence for our department, and as we do in situations that appear to veer from our established practice, we initiated a review."
The child’s parents had praised the pair for their quick response and credited them with saving their daughter.
“As a parent, you feel extremely helpless to be unable to assist the most important person in the world during such a time of emergency,” the little girl’s father, Brian Nunamaker, said in a statement to the news station. “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.
“My wife and I feel terrible for the fallout that has happened to these two gentlemen,” Nunamaker continued. “They simply had the best interests for our daughter’s care in mind.”
News that the men were suspended left the community outraged, which took to social media to express their frustrations.
“Wtf is the world coming to when even saving someone's life gets you suspended, this is one f***** up world we live in,” one person wrote on Facebook.
“Other stations will fall over each other to hire these two,” another posted.
Others commented directly on the fire department’s Facebook page about the incident.
One man wrote of his own experience in a similar situation, posting: “We transported a child in (our) truck one time due to the ambulance being so far out we were praised and thanked for our quick actions. That is our job saving lives if you do not agree (you’re) in the wrong line of duty.”
“As a mother of a toddler who suffers from febrile seizures, I feel repelled and in disbelief that you suspended these two heroes… They are heroes and instead of honoring them for their actions, you suspend them,” another person wrote.
A Facebook page calling for the men’s reinstatement had nearly 7,000 likes by Monday, with supporters planning to protest outside the firehouse that evening.
Kelley had no regrets about his actions, telling WUSA that, “I would not hesitate, I would do the exact same thing 100 percent 10 times out of 10. I sleep well at night knowing I provided good care to that young lady.”
"Any time we have an incident under review that we deem significant, we place the personnel, volunteer or career, on non-punitive administrative leave," Lockhart said on Monday. "We have taken no disciplinary action at this time. When a matter is under review, we place the involved personnel, volunteer or career, on non-punitive administrative leave while the internal review is conducted as we did in this case."
Lockhart said he offered to meet with the Falmouth Chief and the individuals involved, but "they were unwilling to meet."
A memo was emailed to the Falmouth Chief to indicate that Kelley and Bloom were being returned to operational status.
"In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that Stafford County is focused on a high level of professionalism in all that we do," Lockhart said, reiterating that the review was a matter of course.
"As we would with anything that veers from our normal practice, we initiated an internal review. We’ve completed that review and those individuals have been returned to operational status," he said. "We are a combination volunteer and career department responding to many hazards. I am proud of the partnership between volunteers and career staff and the incredible work they do day in and day out to serve our residents and visitors."