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EMS issues apology

August 26, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg's ambulance squad issued a public apology Wednesday night for comments its former chief made during and after an emergency call in March.

"We will make no attempts to make excuses for the actions of our previous chief," the letter says. "However, we believe it to be in the best interest of everyone involved to express the opinions of the leadership and membership at Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services."

The letter - signed "the active membership of Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services" - reached The Herald-Mail by e-mail shortly before 9 p.m., too late to include as a letter to the editor in today's editions.

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Joyce Williams, the ambulance squad's president, said she was working on a second letter at that same time Wednesday night.

Williams said the squad felt "hurt" by a detailed story of the circumstances surrounding a medical call on Maple Avenue and comments made on tape by Jason Tracey, who was chief at the time.

A story based on 911 tapes and a transcript of those tapes that ran in Tuesday's Herald-Mail outlined what happened the morning of March 5, when Danny Gibson, a Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co. member, called for help for his pregnant fiance, Christina Hess, who was having a seizure.

The ambulance squad responded to Gibson's and Hess' home on Maple Avenue and took Hess to Washington County Hospital, where she and her unborn son died.

Gibson called 911 at 7:22:59, the transcript shows.

At 7:24:57, an emergency dispatcher called for a paramedic unit.

A paramedic responded to the dispatcher at 7:29:36 and reached Gibson's and Hess' home, down the road from the ambulance squad building, at 7:31:52, the transcript says.

Williams, fire department officials and members of a committee that reviewed the incident have concluded that the ambulance squad provided good care that day.

Hess died from a condition that caused her blood pressure to suddenly rise, according to her mother, Tammy Reed.

The tape of the 911 calls indicates that Tracey refused when a paramedic who was with the crew who went to the house on the call contacted Tracey and asked for his help.

Tracey did not join the crew at the house, and afterward, said in a phone conversation recorded on that tape, "If it would have been anybody but the fire department, yes."

Tracey also said of the fire department, after Hess had died, "They got what they deserved. The hell with them," according to the tape.

He also said afterward that he could have provided no help other than "lifting assistance."

In April, a committee that included Joe Kroboth, the county's director of emergency services, and Tom Altman, the president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, reviewed the incident.

Williams said Wednesday that the committee concluded in a letter that Tracey "did in fact act in an unprofessional ... manner." The committee recommended that the squad "give strong consideration" to replacing him, she said.

The ambulance squad's board of directors agreed and asked Tracey to resign, which he did, Williams said.

She said Tracey left the ambulance squad at the same time he resigned as chief.

The letter that the squad submitted Wednesday says it doesn't agree with statements made by Tracey on the tape.

"As a matter of record, there is not a single person on the roster at Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services that would place interdepartmental grievances above the emergent care necessary to relieve pain or save another life. Chief Tracey's views, opinions and statements on this topic are those of his own, and at no point represent those of Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services or its membership," the letter says.

"While Chief Tracey made a significant contribution to the community through his years of volunteer service and leadership, none of us believe that his comments were appropriate. ...

"It is our belief that a dispute existed between Chief Tracey and unidentified members of the Smithsburg Community Volunteer (Fire) Company which had (led) him to respond in the manner he chose. It is with an essence of mistrust that Chief Tracey responds with 'you know they're out to screw me and sometimes it comes back around.'"

The letter ends: "In closing, the membership of Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services offers our sincere condolences to the families of Christina Hess and Hunter Daniel Hess Gibson. Through this publication, it is our intention to put this regrettable event to rest, and allow the families their opportunity for peace and closure."

A woman who answered the phone Wednesday night at the Tracey family home said he could not be reached for comment.

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