911 cover-up al­le­ga­tions false, county in­sists

Sys­tem in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues af­ter in­fant boy died Oct. 24 in Lex­ing­ton Park

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JASON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­news.com

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.”

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