Despite a history of missteps, a cadet program designed to groom young firefighters fresh out of D.C. high schools has become a cornerstone of Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe’s tumultuous tenure, reports the Washington Post.
The program was scrapped in 2008 by Ellerbe’s predecessor because of concerns about the training and character of those who have come through the cadet academy, including one who was later convicted of a double murder, one accused of shooting at other cadets and two who died of gunshot wounds.
Ellerbe resurrected the program in 2011 and has used it as the primary way to hire new firefighters in the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
The recent death of Medric Cecil Mills Jr., a 77-year-old man who collapsed across the street from a firehouse, has brought new scrutiny to the program and to a department that has been racked by equipment problems, union conflicts and constant criticism from the D.C. Council.
Remy Jones, a cadet who graduated from the academy just two months prior, was on duty Jan. 25 at the Engine 26 firehouse in Northeast Washington when Mills was stricken with a heart attack. Onlookers ran to the firehouse, where Jones was reportedly at the door, and begged for help.
What happened next is unclear. Jones called his supervisor, according to multiple accounts, but he did not take his radio and run to assist the fallen man, which firefighters said should be a knee-jerk reaction. Although Jones, a 2012 high school graduate, was still in his probationary period, he was allowed and expected to perform the life-saving duties of a firefighter.
No one from the firehouse, where Jones, his supervisor and three others were on duty, ran to Mills’s aid. The lack of immediate response would astonish and outrage Mills’s family. Some minutes later, an ambulance was flagged down by a police officer at the scene, but Mills died that afternoon at a hospital. Fire officials have not released the official response times.
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