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Excessively Light Discipline


I thought I put up a post about this incident back when it happened, but apparently all I did was comment on someone else’s post.

After what seems like a long time, the fire chief made a decision and meted out some discipline.

2 Glendale firefighters suspended for punching patient

A pair of Glendale firefighters have been suspended without pay for punching a patient and cursing at him and his family during an October medical call at a home near 83rd and Glendale avenues, Glendale Fire Chief Mark Burdick confirmed.

Last week, Burdick suspended Capt. Sean Alford for two days and Firefighter Danny Padilla for one day after an administrative investigation determined the men used excessive force to restrain James Murillo, 30, when Murillo punched Alford as his crew attempted to take him to the hospital.

A two day suspension for the officer and a one day suspension for the firefighter.

For hitting a patient. I’m actually less concerned with the cursing part, although it’s certainly unprofessional.

Both men told investigators that they punched Murillo, who was strapped to a gurney with his arms free, to defend themselves.

I suppose the thought of stepping back for a few minutes never occurred to these two geniuses.

Post ictal patients can be tough to deal with. Often, because they were hypoxic during the seizure they are combative and can be violent until they become oriented and rational again. I’ve dealt with many of those patients and have had to restrain more than a few. I never felt any urge to punch any of them or curse them for that matter. In some cases, when there was no danger to the patient or us, I just gave them a healthy dose of leave them alone while monitoring them. That works well most of the time.

I remember one humorous in retrospect case where we got the patient to the hospital and were helping the nurse get the patient ready for examination. We put his Johnny on and that’s when the fight began. After a few minutes we stood back and watched the patient. Who proceeded to take his Johnny off and put it on “backwards”. With the opening in the front. He then tied it like a bathrobe and sat down on the bed as peaceful as could be. At which point, he favored us with a look that said, “Morons. Don’t you know how to put on a bathrobe.”

Hard to argue with that. The point being that post ictal patients can’t expected to be rational and calm.

Which the fire crew on that call, provided they all weren’t post ictal, had a responsibility to be.

Burdick said he reviewed the report, met with Alford and Padilla and weighed all factors before making a decision on a penalty. Burdick said he chose suspensions for several reasons: the men had not been trained how to handle a violent situation and policy allows firefighters to protect themselves with any means necessary if police are not on scene. Alford and Padilla also did not know if Murillo had a weapon and both men had never been in trouble before, Burdick said.

“I don’t want firefighters to strike a patient,” Burdick said. “I wanted to send a message that this won’t be tolerated.”

This is where you cough into your hand and say “Bullshit!” in a stage whisper.

Alford is retiring in a few months and the chief is protecting the guy and his pension. Fine, I understand that, especially if the Captain has never been disciplined before. Still, he should either be removed from field duty or demoted. Maybe both. The suspensions are still way too short.

At my former agency there was no tolerance for this sort of thing. Over the years I was there we had maybe five incidents where a provider actually struck a patient. That’s cases where the investigation showed that the assault actually occurred. There were a number of false accusations as well, but there is no need to discuss them.

In every one of the proven cases, the provider was either terminated or allowed to resign. Harsh, but I don’t think excessively so.

I’m not buying the protecting themselves story either. If the patient is secured to the stretcher, then he’s unlikely to be a threat. If he had weapon, hitting him isn’t likely to make him less likely to attack you, either.

“I’ve been a fire chief for 13 years and I’ve never had an incident like this,” Burdick said. “We had never trained (Alford and Padilla) on what to do if they are assaulted, and I own that.”

Training and policy fail. I’d expect Murillo and his father to be having a talk with a lawyer about that. I think the legal term for that is “negligent training”, but I’m not a lawyer. Maybe The Ambulance Chaser, who is a lawyer, will comment on his blog.

Not to mention that I’m dubious that he’s never heard of a patient being post ictal and violent.

You can read the article yourself and comment here. Maybe I’m wrong on this one, but I don’t think I am.

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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.


  1. Yeah, they are covering the department’s ass and letting these guys off with a slap on the wrist… Union involvement is probably a given in this one…

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