Denver Firefighters Disciplined Over Mistaken DOA Pronouncement

Two Denver firefighter are facing lengthy suspensions for their roles in a botched death pronouncement of a woman who was still alive. The incident occurred on June 24, 2022, when Lieutenant Patrick Lopez and FF Marshal Henry responded with police on a welfare check.

The details of what occurred differ between the firefighters and police, but the 57-year old woman reportedly smelled of decomposition, had lividity, and was leaking fluids. The firefighters did not assess the woman for breathing or a pulse, and instead contacted medical control for a death pronouncement. They assured the med control physician they had personally checked the patient despite not having done so, and med control made the pronouncement.

Later a police officer went back into the residence and observed the woman moving. At that point, firefighters returned to the scene and she was transported to the hospital.

A lengthy investigation followed, resulting in Lopez being demoted to firefighter and suspended without pay for 336 hours (14-shifts). He is also prohibited from being promoted for 5 years, and faces termination for any further infractions. Henry was suspended without pay for 240 hours (10 shifts).

The Tri-City Herald quoted from a fire department email from Captain J.D. Chism to media outlets stating:

  • The Denver Fire Department took immediate action to address this incident and ensure the patient was transported and admitted to the hospital.
  • Following a thorough review subject to DFD’s discipline process, those involved were appropriately disciplined.

More on the story.

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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