By Stewart Dobson
Editor/Ocean City Today
Associate Editor/Bayside Gazette
(Jan. 11, 2013) Both the town of Berlin and the Berlin Fire Company have asked investigators from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems to review the emergency response to a fatal accident on routes 818 and 50 that occurred Dec. 26. Specifically, the parties are asking why a Berlin police officer had to drive one of the three ambulances that responded to the call, when other emergency and firefighting personnel were on the scene.
Both the town and the fire company have received confirmation that MIEMSS officials have received their requests and documentation.
The accident claimed the life of Stephen Mumpower, 26, who was a passenger in a Toyota driven by Amberle Booker, 25, as the two were heading north on Route 818, the stretch of road that leads out of downtown Berlin and to Route 50. Booker pulled into the path of Christopher Keenan, 24, who was headed west in a Dodge, toward Salisbury, according to a witness at the scene.
Although both parties calling for the investigation agree that Berlin Police Lt. Robert Fisher responded to a request to drive an ambulance to Atlantic General Hospital, they disagree on what transpired at the scene and the events leading to Fisher being pressed into service.
While Berlin Fire Chief Marc Brown said having a police officer driving an ambulance from an accident scene was not a normal occurrence, under the conditions on the day of the accident it was not unusual at all for the responder to make the request to an officer they know on a day-to-day basis.
Fire Company President David Fitzgerald added that the training required for a police officer at Fisher’s rank would make him qualified to drive an emergency vehicle. Brown commended Fisher for going “above and beyond” by driving Mumpower from the scene to the Berlin hospital.
But, in a letter to the state Emergency Medical Services medical director, Dr. Richard Alcorta, Mayor Gee Williams, with the support of the Town Council, said, “It is alleged that several emergency responders of the Berlin Fire Company failed to assist, after repeated requests by a career Berlin EMS staff member who was providing emergency care to an accident victim.
“The request was to ask a fellow member of the fire company to drive the ambulance to the hospital,” the letter reads. “It is alleged that as a result of that failure to assist, a member of the Berlin Police Department, Lt. Robert Fisher, was required to drive the ambulance while members of the Berlin Fire Company stood around watching.”
William’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Bayside Gazette, went on to suggest that the circumstances that put Fisher behind the wheel were related to animosity within the company between some of its members and an EMS who filed a workplace harassment complaint with the town in February 2012.
After recounting the turmoil between the town and the fire company since then, Williams wrote, “All of this history is significant because the EMS provider who allegedly requested assistance at the fatal accident on December 26, 2012 was the same provider that made a report of workplace abuse to Town officials in February, 2012.”
Fire company officials, however, vehemently deny that no assistance was given to the EMS, but did ask MEIMSS Region IV Administrator John Barto in Easton, Md., to find out why Fisher drove the ambulance as two responders in the back administered care to the crash victim.
Asked to comment, Fitzgerald bristled at the allegations and said, “We have heard the same wild allegations and that was why we asked for the independent review of the accident.”
A witness to the events said when the EMS arrived with an ambulance – two others were on the scene and took the two other crash victims to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury — as emergency medical personnel were working to extricate Mumpower from Booker’s vehicle.
Once that was done, the witness said, the victim was placed on a stretcher, the EMS began providing care and asked for assistance and a driver. Two other personnel helped EMS with the stretcher, the witness said, and one got into the ambulance to continue offering aid.
Although the EMS asked several times for a driver, the witness said, no one responded, until Fisher was approached and agreed to drive.
For his part, Fisher, who was there doing accident reconstruction, did not want to be drawn into the discussion over the circumstances of the accident. “I was just trying to do a good deed,” he said.
Various witnesses put the number of rescue people on the scene at between 18 and 23. However, Brown said he had collected 20 to 22 statements from providers who were at the scene, either officially or because they heard the accident call.
According to Brown, when the 911 call came in, it was dispatched as a motor vehicle accident and then almost immediately reported as an accident involving several vehicles “with entrapment,” meaning one or more victims were unable to leave the vehicle. If confirmed, he said, “entrapment tells you that you will need to use more tools, more equipment, and more personnel.”
The first ambulance came from the Berlin Fire Company fully staffed with two responders, Brown said. The second ambulance also came from Berlin, but with one responder, a paramedic, he said, and the third came from Ocean Pines fully staffed with two responders.
Fitzgerald pointed out that the number of responders that a volunteer fire company can send to an accident scene depends on how many volunteers are available at the time.
Adding to the challenges that the responders were facing that day was the weather. Fitzgerald said that the accident occurred during a torrential nor’easter.
How many of the responders at the scene were qualified to drive the ambulance and what left the EMS without a driver from within the ranks of rescue personnel are what the company and the town are asking MEIMSS to find out.
Information obtained by state officials would likely be forwarded to the MIEMSS Incident Review Committee to determine if any action is warranted.
According to the MEIMSS Web site, the committee consists of the MIEMSS chief of compliance, the state EMS medical director, and one of the agency’s assistant attorneys Town, fire co. officials call for investigation of Berlin crash responsegeneral.