Two Denver firefighters were suspended without pay after they declared a woman dead when she was actually alive, officials said.
One of the firefighters, Lt. Patrick Lopez, was also demoted over the June 24 incident, the city’s Department of Public Safety said in an order of disciplinary action.
The fire department was called to the woman’s home to assist police officers in conducting a welfare check after her father said that she had undergone stomach surgery and he had not heard from her in several days.
The order says that an officer went into the home, came out and said the woman had bluish-purple discoloration on the skin, fluid leaking from her body and smelled like she was decomposing.
Lopez, according to the order, said the officer told firefighters they did not need to go inside the home because the woman was “obviously dead.” Lopez said he then instructed firefighter Marshall Henry to call the local hospital and ask for a doctor to provide a pronouncement of death.
Henry, who had not seen the woman, allegedly told the doctor that she was “in an advanced state of death” and answered the doctor’s questions as if he had assessed her.
Based on that information, the doctor provided a formal declaration of death. The fire department then left the home.
An officer who went back inside to look for weapons noticed the woman was moving, the order said, and quickly told EMS and the fire department to come back. The woman, who has not been identified, was taken to the hospital.
Henry and Lopez both reported the incident to their supervisors.
An investigation determined that Lopez likely lied about the officer telling firefighters not to go into the home. The officer denied making that statement, according to the order.
Henry was given a 240-hour suspension without pay. Lopez was demoted to firefighter and given a 336-hour suspension without pay.
“The serious nature of this misconduct cannot be understated — the patient was pronounced, though she was in fact alive, and the medical care she deserved was delayed,” said Denver Department of Public Safety’s chief deputy executive director Mary Dulacki.