BERLIN — Reports of a Berlin Police Department (BPD) officer driving an ambulance transporting a victim in a fatal accident in December to the hospital have prompted a request for an investigation by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Service Systems (MIEMSS).
The Berlin Mayor and Council and the Berlin Fire Company (BFC), which responded to the accident and would typically handle all medical transport, have asked MIEMSS to investigate, acknowledging that having a police officer operate an ambulance is unusual.
BFC leadership is confident that MIEMSS will find no misconduct and stated that the police officer simply drove the ambulance “because he was asked.”
In a letter to MIEMSS, Mayor Gee Williams recounts the town’s understanding of the accident, which took place on Dec. 26 and resulted in the death of Stephen Mumpower, 26, of Berlin. Allegations were made, wrote Williams, that despite having a number of BFC personnel on site, BPD officer Lt. Robert Fisher was required to drive the ambulance transporting Mumpower, “while members of the Berlin Fire Company stood around watching.” The letter also cites allegations that BFC personnel ignored multiple requests from a paramedic on the scene for help driving the ambulance.
“If these allegations are true, this behavior is totally unacceptable and would constitute a dereliction of duty to protect and serve the public,” Williams said. “These allegations were brought to our attention by sworn officers of the Berlin Police Department. We are informed that at least two Maryland State Troopers were also on scene who may have observed this incident.”
BFC Chief Marc Brown and President David Fitzgerald vehemently disagreed with Williams’ characterization of the incident.
“You will find that the Berlin Fire Company did their job like they have for the last 100 years,” promised Brown.
While neither Brown nor Fitzgerald were able to comment on details because of the pending investigation, Brown did state that he has followed up on the incident and believes there was no misconduct.
“At this point, I am completely satisfied with what I’ve heard,” he said.
Brown acknowledged numerous personnel responded to the accident but that the mayor’s portrayal of them standing by while a patient needed to be transported is off base. The reason Fisher drove the ambulance instead of a member of the BFC, Brown explained, was just “because he was asked to.”
Fitzgerald elaborated by pointing out that most of the responders at the mid-day accident were volunteers who may have left jobs, families or other commitments to rush to the scene of the crash. He added some members of the BFC present were not qualified to drive an ambulance.
“There are volunteers who are limited by their training and their abilities as well as time commitments,” said Fitzgerald.
According to Fitzgerald, Fisher was off duty and more than happy to help the BFC in whatever capacity he could. Because Fisher was certified to operate emergency vehicles, Fitzgerald said that the company thought it was perfectly reasonable to ask for his assistance, which he volunteered. No one, stressed Fitzgerald, forced Fisher to do anything.
“We all knew he was a qualified emergency vehicle driver,” said Fitzgerald.
Even with a police officer driving the ambulance, Brown asserted that “at no point at all was any patient care or operation sacrificed.” While Mumford was pronounced deceased after the accident, Brown made it clear that, by his review, having a member of the BFC at the wheel of the ambulance would have made zero impact.
In Williams’ letter to MIEMSS, the mayor touches on the recent history of bad blood between the town and the BFC over allegations of harassment made last year by a paid EMS member of the company. The allegations ended up having a ripple effect that resulted in the BFC limiting the council’s influence and the town then severing all funding in response in August.
“All of this history is significant because the EMS provider who allegedly requested assistance at the fatal accident on Dec. 26, 2012 was the same provider who made a report of workplace abuse to town officials in February 2012,” the mayor wrote. “This alleged conduct, if substantiated, could adversely affect EMS patient care and public safety for residents, workers and visitors in and around the Town of Berlin.”
The mayor’s accusation is completely off the mark, claimed Fitzgerald, and Fisher being asked to drive an ambulance for the BFC at the accident is in no way related to any workplace harassment report from last year.
“These are wild allegations that the mayor is making with no evidence,” he said.
Both the town and the BFC say they are eagerly awaiting the results of the MIEMSS investigation.
Jim Brown, the public relations contact for MIEMSS, said the agency cannot comment at this time.