EMTs under fire after woman, baby die

December 22, 2009 8:45:55 AM PST
New York City's fire department has suspended two emergency medical technicians accused of refusing to help a pregnant woman who collapsed in the coffee shop where they were on a break. The woman and her baby later died. Fire Department of New York spokesman Steve Ritea says Jason Green, a six-year veteran, and Melissa Jackson, a four-year veteran, were suspended Monday without pay while the charges are investigated.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that the technicians' behavior was inexcusable, saying the refusal to help goes against human decency.

"There's no excuse whatsoever," he said.

The Fire Department is investigating the accusation, which centers on the death of 25-year-old Eutisha Revee Rennix.

Rennix loved music, dancing, and cooking. It's one reason she worked at a Brooklyn cafe, preparing food. The expectant mother was at work on December 9th when she started having trouble breathing. At the same time, the two EMTs were on their coffee break.

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Hoffer: "The EMT's were in the restaurant, sitting there?"
Eutisha's mother, Cynthia Rennis: "Having coffee and bagels"

Cynthia Rennix told Jim Hoffer what she had learned from her daughter's co-workers.

Hoffer: "They ignored cries for help?"
Rennix: They ignored it totally. They said call it in."
Hoffer: "Call it in?"
Rennix: "Call 911."

The mother says the EMTs left as her daughter went into cardiac arrest. An ambulance rushed her to a nearby hospital, where she died, as did her baby, hours later.

"They felt the break was more important than saving a life," Rennix said.

Bloomberg, when asked whether worker burn out could explain the EMTs behavior, gave one of the angriest responses of his eight years in office.

"There is no excuse whatsover, as far as I can see," Bloomberg said. "I don't know what kind of burnout you could have, besides not being a decent human being."

Eutisha's twin brother, who knows something about duty as a soldier who spent 15 months in Iraq, says the two men don't deserve to wear an FDNY uniform.

"My sister was in the back dying, and if they just would have helped, did something, there's a possibility she'd be alive today," Eudane Rennix said.

Instead, her 3-year-old son will now be raised by his grandmother, who says she's feeling empty inside:

"No words for this," Cynthia Rennix said. "No words, no understanding."

The Fire Department declined to comment further pending the outcome of the investigation.

A spokesman for the EMT union said the situation with its resulting accusation was an "odd event," and that EMTs generally consider their jobs to be a 24-hour kind of thing.

"Our people tend to spring into action whether they're on duty, off duty, whatever they're doing," said Robert Ungar, spokesman for the Uniformed EMTS and Paramedics, FDNY.

The city's EMTs have a "very strong bond with the people of New York City that they serve," he said. "They view themselves as always being on duty."

"If there was unprofessional conduct by these EMTs, the union does not condone any type of conduct which in any way can harm members of the public," he said.


Statement from Robert Ungar, Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics - FDNY Local 2507:

"FDNY EMTs & Paramedics, all 3,000 of them, are dedicated to saving lives across the City. They have a long standing history of off duty rescues and assistance...in and out of uniform. Our people stop and assist at accident scenes, heart attacks and have even rescued people from subway tracks while off duty. We NEVER condone activity by our members that could harm the public. If these members are found to have violated Department protocols the FDNY has a process to deal with that."

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this article)