YCMTSU Alabama: Medical Helicopter Cancellation

A man who was critically injured in an ATV accident in Alabama in 2013 has filed suit in federal court claiming a fire chief and a dispatcher were in part responsible his injuries because they cancelled a medical evacuation helicopter. That concludes the only normal sounding part of the complaint that Brian Lomanack filed Monday in US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Among his shocking YCMTSU allegations:

  • A city fire chief from a neighboring department who was not on the scene got on the radio and without justification or authority to do so cancelled a medical helicopter that had been requested by the fire chief from the community where the incident occurred
  • The county dispatcher wrongfully honored the city fire chief’s order and cancelled the helicopter without bothering to advise the local fire chief or responders from the community where the incident occurred
  • The city fire chief was intoxicated/impaired at the time
  • The resulting delay contributed to Lomanack’s injuries.

The factual allegations in the complaint are straight-forward and easy to follow (although hard to stomach):

  • On April 3, 2013, Plaintiff Brian Lomanack was involved in an accident while operating an all-terrain vehicle.
  • The accident scene was within the geographic jurisdiction of Echo Volunteer Fire & Rescue (hereinafter “Echo EMS”) and was outside the jurisdiction of the Ozark City Fire Department.
  • Immediately following his ATV accident, Plaintiff was unconscious, unresponsive, bleeding from his ears, displayed difficulty breathing, and had a large bulge and/or deformity in his skull and neck area.
  • Shortly thereafter, a member of Echo EMS arrived on the scene and reported to [the dispatcher, Jessica] Cauthen that Plaintiff was “critical” and “barely breathing.”
  • Meanwhile, Rocky Windham, Chief of Echo EMS was en route to the accident scene. As Mr. Windham was a member of Echo EMS, he was able to communicate with both Defendant Cauthen and the Echo EMS member on the scene via Echo EMS’s separate channel.
  • As Chief of Echo EMS, Windham carried jurisdictional authority over the accident scene, including the authority to determine the appropriate means and time of patient transport.
  • Based on the reports of Plaintiff’s condition from the Echo EMS member at the scene, Mr. Windham ordered Defendant Cauthen to dispatch Flat Iron air evacuation services (hereinafter “Flat Iron”) to send an emergency medical helicopter to the accident scene and transport Plaintiff therefrom.
  • At all times relevant hereto, Defendant Gregory Boutwell was under the influence of alcohol and/or other intoxicating substances/medications.
  • Defendant Gregory Boutwell, Fire Chief for the City of Ozark, Alabama, heard Defendant Cauthen report the request/order for Flat Iron across the general channel. When this report came across the general channel, Defendant Boutwell was not at the accident scene (nor did he ever make it to the accident scene).
  • Defendant Boutwell then instructed Defendant Cauthen to cancel the order for Flat Iron and for her to place everyone on “standby” until he could arrive on the accident scene. Defendant Boutwell then asked for the location of the accident scene, in which Defendant Cauthen advised the accident was in Echo-outside of Ozark Fire Department and Boutwell’s jurisdiction . Defendant Cauthen affirmed that she would respect Defendant Boutwell’s orders and subsequently cancelled the dispatch of Flat Iron.
  • This conversation between Boutwell and Cauthen occurred on the Ozark Fire Department’s separate channel and was not relayed over the general channel. Thus, Echo EMS responders at the accident scene were not apprised that Flat Iron was cancelled.
  • Immediately thereafter, Echo EMS Chief Rocky Windham, who had since arrived at the accident scene, requested the status of Flat Iron. Defendant Cauthen ignored the status request. Instead, Defendant Cauthen sought an update from a deputy sheriff who she believed was en route to the accident scene. That report was made on the sherriff’s specific channel, preventing Windham from learning of the request.
  • Defendant Cauthen was again advised, by an unknown individual at the scene, that “Patient is critical, patient is critical.”
  • Defendant Cauthen relayed that “patient is critical” to Defendant Boutwell, via the Ozark Fire channel. Defendant Cauthen also repeated to Boutwell the initial status of the Plaintiff—that Plaintiff is unconscious, unresponsive, bleeding from his ears, and has a bulge and/or deformity in his skull and neck area.
  • After hearing of Plaintiff’s critical condition for the second time, Boutwell again instructs Cauthen not to dispatch Flat Iron until he arrives on scene.
  • Rocky Windham, once again, advises Defendant Cauthen that he is at the accident scene, has observed Plaintiff’s critical condition, and to dispatch Flat Iron. At this time, Defendant Cauthen reports to Defendant Boutwell, via the Ozark Fire channel, that she is calling his cell phone and that he should pick-up. Cauthen and Boutwell proceed to have an off-the-record phone conversation.
  • After Cauthen and Boutwell’s off-the-record phone conversation, Boutwell advises Cauthen over the Ozark Fire channel to dispatch Flat Iron to the accident scene. Defendant Cauthen then dispatches Flat Iron to the accident scene.
  • By the time Flat Iron was prepared to lift off, an ambulance had arrived on scene. After being advised that Flat Iron had not yet lifted off, on-site responders decided to transport Plaintiff to Flowers Hospital via ambulance to eliminate any further delay. Plaintiff was then loaded into an ambulance and provided an emergency escort by deputy sheriffs to Flowers Hospital.
  • As a direct result of the substantial, unnecessary delay in Plaintiff’s emergency transport, Plaintiff has sustained substantial, permanent cognitive, physical, and economic injuries described below.
  • Defendant Boutwell’s conduct was arbitrary in nature and/or made with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff’s substantive due process rights provided to him by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The complaint alleges that Chief Boutwell and Cauthen are liable for violating Lomanack’s due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that all four defendants, Chief Boutwell, Cauthen, Ozark-Dale County E-911 Board, Inc., and the city of Ozark, are liable for negligence and wanton conduct. No dollar amount of damages is listed.

According to news reports, Chief Boutwell was suspended for 30 days without pay over his involvement in the 2013 incident, and sent for impairment testing and counseling. He retired last year.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Lomanack v Boutwell

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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