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Emergency services volunteer disciplined

June 11, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Department of Emergency Services has taken disciplinary action against a Smithsburg Emergency Medical Service volunteer in connection with a March 5 incident.

The disciplinary action was related to events that took place after a March 5 emergency call to the home of a 20-year-old Smithsburg woman who later died, along with her unborn child. It was not related to the care or treatment of the woman or the unborn child, said Joseph Kroboth, director of the Department of Emergency Services.

Kroboth said the complaint, filed about a month after the deaths, did not name emergency responders who provided treatment at the scene, but was a result of events "surrounding the incident."

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"The complaint had nothing to do with procedure or protocol violations or any things of that nature," Kroboth said.

Department of Emergency Services officials repeatedly declined to specify why Smithsburg Fire Chief Ron Jeter filed the complaint - which they received on April 6 - that led to the disciplinary action or why the action was taken.

Kroboth said disciplinary action was taken later in April against a Smithsburg EMS member in connection with the incident on March 5, the day the call came from the Maple Street residence of Christina L. Hess.

Kroboth would not name the male volunteer who was disciplined.

Department of Emergency Services officials also are working to get Smithsburg's EMS and fire company staffs to improve their long-strained working relationship.

On March 5, emergency responders were called to 2 Maple St. in Smithsburg for reports of convulsions and, later, a cardiac arrest. Hess, a 2001 graduate of Smithsburg High School, died that day.

Jeter, whose wife was a cousin of Hess, said Hess' unborn son, who was to be named Hunter Daniel Hess Gibson, also died that day. Jeter said Hess and her fianc, Daniel Gibson, were volunteers with the fire department.

Multiple attempts to reach Gibson were unsuccessful.

Hess' mother, Tammy L. Belew Hess Reed, declined to comment.

Jeter and Smithsburg EMS Assistant Chief Robert Myerly declined to comment on the complaint.

Kroboth said a four-person committee was formed to investigate the complaint and decided on the disciplinary action to be taken. The committee consisted of Kroboth, Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Tom Altman, Emergency Medical Services Management Specialist Brigitte Heller and EMS Medical Director Dr. Stephen Kotch.

A transcript of the 911 tapes of the emergency callfrom Hess' home on March 5 was released by Washington County Attorney Richard W. Douglas in response to a May 11 state Public Information Act request filed by The Herald-Mail. In the transcript, all conversations between 911 operators and the caller that dealt with medical information were blacked out.

In its Public Information Act request, The Herald-Mail also asked for the name of the person disciplined and the actions of that person that led to the discipline. In his response, Douglas said that information would not be released under the personnel records provisions established by the state.

An April 26 letter to Jeter, confirming the validity of his unspecified complaint, was released as a result of the Public Information Act request.

That letter, signed by Kroboth and Heller, said the county Department of Emergency Services expects Smithsburg's fire and EMS groups to "work diligently" to improve their relationship with one another.

"The Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association and the Department of Emergency Services remain committed to your organization and the Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services to assist in any way necessary that will improve the working relationship between the two companies," the letter says.

Kroboth has said the working relationship between the volunteer companies had been strained for a few years.

Although Kroboth said he did not want to speculate on whether "personality problems" still exist between the two groups as a result of past incidents, he confirmed that animosities surfaced between the two following Smithsburg EMS's attempt to operate a rescue squad.

About five years ago, both groups aggressively sought the designation from the county to provide rescue and extrication services in the Smithsburg region.

The fire department was handling such tasks during the dispute and complained that EMS was duplicating services.

In January 2002, the Washington County Commissioners banned the Smithsburg EMS from using its rescue squad vehicle for emergencies although it had done so for about nine months after originally being ordered by the county to stop. EMS eventually sold the equipment.

Before 1990, EMS had been operating out of space it rented from the fire department.

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