On Jan. 3, 67-year-old Albert Jackson died of cardiac arrhythmia after first responders from the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services department failed to enter his home located at 405 60th St. NE. Now, his family and their attorney are considering a series of actions to seek redress and prevent similar incidents from happening to others in the future, they told reporters today. Their announcement followed a heated D.C. Council hearing on FEMS last week.
“This is horrific, this is catastrophic, and this didn’t have to happen,” the family’s Silver Spring-based attorney, Joel DuBoff, said at his office. “The family never knew the engine company came because no one knocked on their door.”
Around 4 p.m. that Sunday, Truck 17 arrived on Jackson’s block but left after police who were handling another situation waved FEMS personnel off, according to the Post; an ambulance and a fire engine en route were then dismissed. When a second call from the Jacksons reached dispatchers minutes later, they sent a separate engine-ambulance pair to the family’s address, FOX5 reported: That help didn’t arrive until nearly 19 minutes after the Jacksons had made their first call to 911.
Albert’s wife, Gloria, attempted to give him CPR before responders arrived, she said this morning. Albert was taken to Prince George’s County hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to DuBoff.
FEMS Chief Gregory Dean characterized the incident as “an honest mistake” and, ultimately, “the wrong decision.” In recent weeks, he and Mayor Muriel Bowser have defended the work of the department and said reform is coming. Still, in her resignation letter released earlier this month, ex-FEMS Medical Director Jullette Saussy cited deaths like Jackson’s as part of the agency’s larger issues related to training and culture: “People are dying needlessly,” she wrote.
“I’m very disappointed in the District… I think my husband could have been saved if they’d gotten there sooner,” Gloria Jackson said on Tuesday sitting next to her two daughters and son. “It’s not an honest mistake; it’s a careless mistake.”
DuBoff says the public-duty doctrine, which protects government agencies from legal suits, currently limits the extent of recourse the Jacksons can pursue. But nothing is stopping them from petitioning the D.C. Council to change the law, a method which DuBoff plans to pursue within the next 15 days. He said he may ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate similar deaths too. Finally, he said he may ask Congress to hold a hearing on botched emergency responses.
The attorney also mentioned potential legal “action” against D.C. filed in federal court in Maryland. “Why not?” he said rhetorically.
The four members of the Jackson family present at DuBoff’s office on Tuesday recalled Albert as a “patriarch” who had survived previous health issues including cancer and a recent kidney transplant. “He had a lot more life to live, and a new great-grandchild,” said Stacie Jackson, one of Albert’s daughters, as she cried. “To die over this, it’s just ridiculous.”
DuBoff and the family said no one from FEMS ever reached out to them to explain what had happened or to express condolences; they learned much of what had happened through subsequent media accounts.
In an email, department spokesperson Tim Wilson said the agency “has no additional comment on this incident other than what was stated last week at a city council hearing on Wednesday, February 17.” Wilson continued, “At the hearing, DCFEMS Chief Dean testified that he contacted a family member and provided his phone number if any additional information was needed. Assistant Fire Chief Craig Baker also testified that a disciplinary review would commence since the investigation of the incident was complete.”
After Jan. 3, Dean announced a reform requiring responders to verify addresses with dispatchers when they arrive on scene.
“Nothing’s going to bring him back,” Jackson’s son, Anthony, said, “but we don’t want it to happen to someone else.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery