Three Memphis Firefighters Terminated Over the Death of Tyre Nichols

Three Memphis firefighters have been terminated in the aftermath of the death of Tyre Nichols. Nichols died on January 10, 2023, three days after he was beaten by Memphis police officers who have since been charged with murder.

Lieutenant Michelle Whitaker, Firefighter Robert Long, and Firefighter JaMichael Sandridge have been terminated for their role in the January 7, 2023 response to the incident. They responded on Engine 55 to the scene where Long, an EMT-Basic, and Sandridge, an EMT-Advanced, were directed to Nichols. They have been accused of failing to assess him, which in turn delayed help until a fire department ambulance arrived on scene. Lt. Whitaker is accused of never getting out of the engine.

According to a statement issued by Memphis Fire Chief Gina Sweat:

  • EMT-Basic Robert Long and EMT-Advanced JaMicheal Sandridge made the scene where Tyre Nichols was located handcuffed on the ground leaning against a police vehicle at approximately 8:41 p.m.
  • The Driver of Engine 55 and Lieutenant Michelle Whitaker remained in the fire apparatus.
  • Our investigation has concluded that the two EMT’s responded based on the initial nature of the call (person pepper sprayed) and information they were told on the scene and failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols.
  • After their initial interaction with Mr. Nichols, they requested an ambulance to respond. Emergency Unit 28 was dispatched at 8:46 p.m., arrived on the scene at 8:55 p.m., initiated patient care and transported Mr. Nichols to St. Francis Hospital at 9:08 p.m.
  • After concluding our internal investigation, it was determined that EMT-B Long, EMT-A Sandridge and Lt. Whitaker violated numerous MFD Policies and Protocols.
  • As a result, EMT-B Long, EMT-A Sandridge and Lt. Whitaker have been terminated from the Memphis Fire Department.

Note that there appears to be a great deal of misinformation circulating in the media about the case, some of it claiming that Lt. Whitaker drove Engine 55 (or an ambulance) to the scene. It is likely that civilian writer/reporters reading the press release misunderstood the second bulleted paragraph above, and assumed that Whitaker was both the driver and a lieutenant.  

Here is a copy of Chief Sweat’s statement:

Update: February 7, 2023: Memphis Fire Chief Outlines Errors in Tyre Nichols Response

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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