WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – The state has suspended the Emergency Medical Technician Cardiac licenses of two Warwick firefighters after a patient they declined to transport to the hospital later died.
The firefighters, Brandon Colombo and Michael Monteiro, had their EMT-C licenses “suspended until further notice,” according to a March 4 order signed by R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. The report said the firefighters’ behavior imperils “public health, safety, or welfare” and “imperatively requires emergency action.”
A summary suspension of an EMT-C license is rare. The Health Department’s website shows only one other firefighter has had that disciplinary action taken against them in the past five years.
According to the suspension order, Colombo and Monteiro responded to a 44-year-old Warwick resident’s home on Feb. 10. The firefighters checked the woman’s pulse and the report described her as “quiet/partially asleep.”
The firefighters were told that the woman – who the report identified as “Patient I” – had experienced a seizure with “subsequent breathing difficulty shortly before her sleep-like state.” The firefighters were urged by residents to transport her to a hospital, but “concluded there was no reason to do so,” according to the report.
“Respondent consulted with no other health care provider before coming to this conclusion. Instead, respondent surmised that Patient I was ‘not in acute distress’ and advised the concerned resident to follow up with Patient I’s primary care physician if trouble occurred.”
About 45 minutes later, the woman’s friend decided she needed to go to an emergency room and drove her to Kent Hospital. Doctors there determined she was experiencing an elevated heart rate known as tachycardia.
“After various life-saving attempts, she died at 2:20 p.m.,” according to the report.
The state found three violations of Rhode Island Statewide EMS Protocols, including failure to transport a patient to the nearest hospital, failure to obtain vital signs of a patient, and failure to get a signature from the patient that they refused to be transported (which the report said was not possible because the patient in this case was in an unconscious or semi-conscious state).
The report also said the firefighters’ actions resulted in four violations of EMS rules, including “gross negligence in providing medical care.”
Warwick firefighter union president Michael Carreiro told Target 12 the union contract requires all firefighters to have an EMT-C license to be employed by the department. He said his understanding is both Colombo and Monteiro are still working at the department, but he didn’t know in what role.
“I know they are not on the rescue and they are not performing EMT duties,” Carreiro said.
Elizabeth Wiens, the attorney for the firefighters’ union, said her clients deny any wrongdoing and are looking forward to an administrative hearing on the discipline.
“It’s very concerning to us that their licenses were suspended without even talking to them at all,” Wiens said. “No investigation whatsoever, just immediately suspended.”
Firefighters who have their licenses suspended can request an administrative hearing before the Health Department 10 days after the discipline is issued. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 7.
A spokesperson for Mayor Frank Picozzi declined to comment about the matter.
City Councilman Jeremy Rix said he was unaware of the disciplinary action until he was contacted by a reporer.
“My heart goes out to the friends and family of the woman who passed away. The facts as reported are concerning,” Rix said in an email. “I trust that the individuals will receive a fair hearing and that we will all know more about how this happened.”
“Hopefully, we will be better able to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again in Warwick,” he added.
Likewise, City Council President Stephen McCallister said “this was the first I have heard of the situation.”
“I feel so bad for the family and friends who have lost a loved one,” McCallister said in an email.