Chief's remarks denounced

August 25, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

SMITHSBURG - News that the chief of Smithsburg's ambulance squad said the town's fire department "got what they deserved" when one of its members died in March sparked angry and sad feelings Tuesday.

"When I listened to the tape, I was basically about in tears over it," Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said. "It's just a very sad situation."

"I think it's a black eye for EMS within this county," said James Miller, chief of operations for the Clear Spring Ambulance Club.


"I think it's a ... shame, the way it happened ...," Harry Bittinger of Holiday Acres outside Smithsburg said at Home-Style Laundry. "Nobody deserves that. Any differences that anybody has shouldn't be handled through an emergency call."

The Herald-Mail published a story about the comments and a transcript of the calls Tuesday.

On March 5, after learning that Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co. member Christina Hess died, Jason Tracey - who was Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services' chief - said, on tape, "Mother, child, son, daughter, brother, sister - they got what they deserved.

"The hell with them. I hate to be a cold bastard like that, but you know they're out to screw me and sometimes it comes back around."

Hess, 20, and her unborn son died that morning after a Smithsburg ambulance took her to Washington County Hospital.

A paramedic who was on that call had asked for Tracey to help her, but he wouldn't, according to the tape.

Hess' fiancé, Danny Gibson, who lived with her at 2 Maple Ave. and also belonged to the fire department, had called 911.

On the tape, Tracey acknowledged refusing to help on the call. "If it would have been anybody but the fire department, yes," he told a dispatcher. "But if I would have went down there they would have just watched over, tried to nail me."

Tom Altman, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, said Monday that a committee reviewed the incident and recommended that the ambulance squad suspend Tracey.

Joyce Williams, the president of Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services, said Tuesday that the squad abided by the recommendation. She wasn't sure, though, exactly what the recommendation was.

Robert Follin took over as president for Tracey, she said.

Tracey's mother declined a reporter's request to reach him on Friday, repeatedly saying, "I can't help you with that."

Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co. officials and Joe Kroboth, Washington County's director of emergency services, denounced the comments Monday.

At the Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services office Tuesday, Follin said an attorney told the squad not to say anything.

Williams said that as president, though, she can speak for the squad - but she had little time to do so late Tuesday afternoon. She promised to say more today.

A TV news reporter from Washington, D.C., and The Herald-Mail went to Smithsburg Tuesday to get reactions. Some people weren't aware of the situation. Some knew fire department or rescue squad members and didn't want to comment. But some spoke out.

"I was real mad," Bryan Senz of Boonsboro, a former Smithsburg resident, said at The Dixie Eatery on North Main Street.

Down the road, fire department member Cindy Lyons said she joined this year and doesn't know the history of its relationship with the ambulance squad.

"My personal dealings with them has been great," said Lyons, whose husband is a Smithsburg firefighter.

"I don't think that was necessary," Charlotte Miller of Smithsburg said. "They should work together."

"Those comments were totally inappropriate," Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said after Tuesday's commissioners meeting.

He said the commissioners listened to a tape of the calls in May.

Some fire and rescue officials didn't want to comment, but others did.

"We're here to serve the public and if he couldn't go, he shouldn't have made the comment," said Mary Jane Blickenstaff, president of Boonsboro Ambulance and Rescue. "Some people forget why they're there sometimes."

"My first real concern after reading that article is the public's perception," Jonathan Gift, chief of Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., said. "It's not indicative of the fire and rescue services within Washington County. The actions taken or not taken that day are a reflection of individuals."

"It's a sad day for both the career and volunteer EMS in Washington County and the fire departments in Washington County," said Eloise Healy, a paid administrator for Williamsport Volunteer Rescue Squad. "It's a very sad day for everybody."

Staff writers Pepper Ballard and Tara Reilly contributed to this story.

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