Firefighter disciplined for rushing burned toddler to hospital when ambulance didn’t arrive: ‘That’s not our job’

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma City Fire Department is facing criticism from the community and from its own ranks following the punishment of a veteran firefighter for driving a severely burned child to the hospital rather than waiting for an extended period for EMS.

Major Corey Britt was removed from his position as senior company officer at Station 34 in Oklahoma City, according to fire company sources. 

The discipline was handed down after a complaint was filed against the firefighter by EMSA, the emergency service that sent an ambulance to the Christmas Eve incident.

Britt arrived on the scene of a medical call for 3-year-old Quinn Amme. The child suffered second-degree burns to her lower body. When EMS failed to arrive more than 20 minutes later, Britt decided not to wait. He transported the young girl to the hospital on a fire apparatus.

The fire department reported that EMSA was less than ½ mile away from the scene when Brett transported the child. Oklahoma City Fire Chief Richard Kelley said that Britt’s actions were not part of his job and violated state law:

“We don’t transport patients. That’s not our job.”

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Walters added:

“Most of the times those calls are excellent, but if you miss the mark, we talk about it and correct it, as necessary.”

A disciplinary hearing was held Friday afternoon. The department decided that the 25-year veteran will keep his pay and rank but would face “internal corrective measures.” Sources said one of the measures was removal as senior company officer.

Family members of the victim are offering support to Britt and said it was EMS that failed. Parents Corey and Kristen Amme said they were left waiting for EMS to arrive after their daughter was scalded with hot oil from a fondue pot.

Kristen said that after waiting with firefighters for over 20 minutes for EMS to arrive, she called a dispatcher back, was told the ambulance was still at least ten minutes away.

The grateful mother praised Britt’s decision to transport her and her daughter to the hospital:

“I appreciate every decision he made when the system failed us. (Britt) made a decision not only as a first responder and a firefighter, but as a father and a fellow Oklahoman…He made the best choice for the care of his patient.”

Corey Amme said that EMS failed to provide the service that the family needed, but the fire department stepped up:

“That night we really needed them. They just weren’t there. Like I said, the fire department – (we) can’t thank them enough.”

One of several firefighters offering support for Britt told KFOR News:

“None of the firefighters feel like this is fair. Yes, we know he broke policy, but he was only trying to help the child.”

The Oklahoma Firefighters Local 157 issued a statement saying the union supported Britt and blamed COVID-19 and staffing issues with EMS for the situation. The union said it will work with all parties involved to correct the situation that is putting firefighters in a difficult position.

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Union President Cameron Weems released a statement Friday night:

“While his actions would not be considered routine, Major Corey Britt gave to the department the reasoning behind his decision.

“Unfortunately, obstacles arising from both COVID-19 and staffing on transport vehicles have caused issues with longer-than-normal wait times for patients on scene of an emergency,”

EMSA records indicate that EMS has taken over an hour to respond to emergency calls more than 40 times in the past month, according to KFOR News.

EMSA Chief of Operations John Graham admitted ambulances have been experiencing delays because of low staffing and delays in emergency rooms dealing with the pandemic. He pointed out that ambulances are also taking longer to return to service after dispatch because of required decontamination processes.

Graham told reporters:

“We make no bones about it…we have nothing to hide. We are struggling like many, many ambulance services.”

Graham explained that the situation is causing ambulances to be dispatched from hospitals and further away than community posts. Oklahoma City Deputy Attorney and EMSA Board Chairman Wiley Williams also blamed delays on a challenging transition following the cancellation of a contract with American Medical Response and taking over ambulance services on Dec. 1.

Greg Friese, Editorial Director of Lexipol, wrote that Oklahoma City’s EMS system is stressed like many other communities.

Fiese is an educator, author, and national registry paramedic since 2005. He writes for EMS, fire, and police publications across the country. He said EMSA is understaffed, over-worked, and struggling to get ambulances to patients quickly:

“Response delays are stressful for everyone – fire department first responders, EMS providers, dispatchers, patients, and their families.

Other than a simplistic suggestion to ‘drive faster,’ the fire department first responders, as well as the responding ambulance crew, have few options to change response time for an individual call.”

Friese said there are three options available to emergency responders when EMS is delayed:

  • Continue on-scene treatment, ongoing assessment, request status updates through dispatch, and keep the patient, family, and bystanders up to date on the ambulance’s arrival time.
  • Terminate the patient-provider relationship with a release, completion of care, or refusal of transport. Most systems are likely a long way from treating a pediatric burn patient in place and then releasing the patient for private vehicle transport to urgent care.
  • Transport the patient in a vehicle not designed, equipped, or authorized for patient transport. In my opinion, this is the least desirable and highest risk option, and should only be considered, if ever, for patients with immediate life threats.

Friese said that anyone in Britt’s shoes would have a hard decision:

“Which option would you have chosen? Britt and his crew chose option 3 to transport the patient by fire engine, triggering EMSA to report the incident, and the fire department to review and discipline Britt for his decision.

“I have often counseled EMS students that when facing an ethical dilemma, they should act in the best interests of the patient, and that acting on ‘what’s best for the patient’ with their training, tools, and information at hand is the best position to defend if scrutinized by their employer, the media or the legal system.”

The little girl is recovering at home. Her parents say she is expected to make a full recovery.

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