Contact 5: Palm Beach County Fire Rescue changes IA system after serious incident

Contact 5 found Lt. delayed call

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -

If it wasn't for a 19-year-old EMT student, a video exposing systemic problems at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue never would have been seen.

On July 6, 2016, surveillance video from a Palm Springs Publix shows the student, and the lieutenant in charge of her training, waiting for lunch at the deli counter.

What you can't hear in the video is what happens at 12:41:35, a cardiac arrest call. But that's not what happened here.

More than a minute later, the lieutenant is still waiting for his sandwich. Then he pays for the lunch. After 3 minutes and 10 seconds, he finally leaves the store.

The internal investigation that followed the incident was obtained exclusively by Contact 5, along with audio recordings and hundreds of emails. WPTV shared the information with County Commissioner Dave Kerner, whose district oversees the Village of Palm Springs.

Internal affairs is absolutely one of the last lines of defense and perhaps one of the most important in holding employees accountable.  It's got to work 100 percent of the time. And there is some question about whether it actually happened this time around," says Kerner.

In the internal affairs investigation, Contact 5 found several things fire rescue later confirmed are unusual. First, the chief overseeing internal affairs was actively involved in the investigations process. He even asked questions at some interviews, which county lawyers later said they disapproved of.

Contact 5 also found differences between the first draft and final internal affairs report.

In a draft report, it was recommended the lieutenant's "chain of command review the investigation and decide the best course of action."

The final report is missing that recommendation.

More unusual is than no one interviewed the lieutenant at the center of this investigation.

Finally, no disciplinary action was recommended. Investigators found "no violations in our disciplinary guidelines or practices."

"I find it very disconcerting. Because at the end of the day I think the public has a right to our immediate response to emergency calls. That's their right," says Chief Jeff Collins, who is in charge of all Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. "When emergency calls come in, we have a duty to act and we have to act."

Collins, like Contact 5, thought there were issues with the IA report.

Collins has now made big changes to ensure complete and balanced investigations in the future.

1. Before an internal affairs investigation is closed, the employee in question must be interviewed.

2. The internal affairs chief can no longer conduct interviews.

"I'm holding our employees, as well as myself, accountable for what should be expected," said Collins.

Collins also made changes to the way response times are recorded. Crews installed new software so call times cannot be altered. The system will record when a truck says it's en route, and when it actually starts moving.

"I think the biggest thing that's really come out of this is my position on where I stand with responding to emergency calls. And we have to be immediate in our actions," says Collins.  "This will not happen again."

WPTV is not naming the student because of privacy concerns. We've chosen not to name the lieutenant because he was not disciplined.

The call the lieutenant delayed was downgraded to stomach pains when they arrived on scene.

The county has opened an human resources investigation related to the incident.

 

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