911 cover-up allegations false, county insists
System investigation continues after infant boy died Oct. 24 in Lexington Park
St. Mary’s County government’s investigation into a communications issue at the 911 center last week continues, but a preliminary review found that protocols were properly followed.
There were also allegations from some of the county’s fire chiefs that the 911 center’s staff was being threatened if they spoke out about problems in communications.
Volunteer first-responder chiefs “are fed up with this system. The employees have been threaten [ed] with [their] job reference this incident. It was just a matter of time a death would result in this failure,” Fire Chief Dennis Brady said in an Oct. 24 email that was distributed to the media last week.
St. Mary’s County government in a statement on Wednesday said those allegations were unfounded.
The county administrator, Rebecca Bridgett, received an email from Brady and another fire chief on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 24, the day that a Lexington Park infant died, “alleging dispatchers who alert volunteers of a system failure could face disciplinary action, and staff members are in fear for their jobs if they speak out when there are issues,” the press release stated.
“These accusations were
taken seriously and an investigation was conducted by my office in conjunction with the department of human resources,” Bridgett said in a statement.
“The investigation found no basis to determine that the allegations are credible and no evidence was found to suggest that the allegations have any merit,” Catherine Pratson, director of human resources, said in a statement.
“There’s no merit to them,” Bob Kelly, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services and Technology, said in an interview on Thursday.
Asked if any county government employees were threatened to conceal information, Kelly said, “There’s no evidence of that. We don’t know where it would have come from or why.”
Kelly said there was no cover-up.
The emails from Brady and Robert Wahrenbrock, chief of the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department, “went on to state that there is a management policy not to tell the volunteers that the radios are down,” county government’s press release said.
“We could not find any written documentation to support the claim, however, the county expects the policy to be followed when there are issues with the radio system — broadcast the outage/issue information to all users of [the] system, which includes volunteers. The county fire and rescue chiefs should be notified,” the re- lease said.
The employees of the emergency communications center were asked for their comments through a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats assessment conducted on Thursday by the county administrator’s office.
The department of emergency services and technology is still working to determine what went wrong in the communications system on Oct. 24.
“The system analysis is still being performed. That’s not complete,” Kelly said.
“St. Mary’s County utilizes multiple systems to alert first responders of a call for service. This provides for redundancy, ensuring that volunteers are alerted to a call for service,” county government said in its press release. “All fire and EMS stations are equipped with radio base stations; emergency response vehicles equipped with mobile and portable radios for crews which provide access to the county radio system. Volunteer departments provide pagers for their members which allow them to receive an alert over the paging radio system directly from the 911 computer-aided dispatch.”
Mark Pettit, the quality assurance officer for St. Mary’s County government, “has determined emergency medical dispatch protocols were properly followed” on Oct. 24, the press release stated. “Advanced Life Support, Bay District Volunteer Fire Department and a St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s deputy were on scene with CPR being performed, within seven minutes of the call being dispatched. The Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad (Station 39) arrived on scene 13 minutes after the call being dispatched.”
The county commissioners expressed their support for the volunteer first-responder community in the release as well.
“The public trust is first and foremost,” said Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R). “To that end I pledge to ensure citizens continue to have confidence in the service provided by our volunteer first responders and emergency services.”
“We have heard the concerns from the volunteers and are continuing to work the issue,” said Commission President Randy Guy (R). “We appreciate their service to the county and our citizens and believe the SWOT analysis will provide the answers which will allow us to make the appropriate changes.”
“St Mary’s County’s first responders are the backbone and lifeline of our community. We trust you, we hear you and we believe you,” Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said. “Immediate steps are being taken to correct the issues at hand. We thank you for continuing to allow us to work for you, which is our responsibility as your elected public officials.”
“Public safety has always been one of my primary focuses,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said. “I enjoy a strong and productive working relationship with our fire and rescue volunteers throughout the county. Together, we will work through this situation, learn a lot, and be better for it.”