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Officials at odds over child's death

Three-year-old Jadan Myers-Pugh had just started K-3 at V.V. Reid Elementary and could make it through the letter "K" on his ABCs when, 10 days ago, his mother found him not breathing in his bedroom.

Jadan didn't make it, and more than his family and friends are upset about it.

His death has reopened a debate between the Columbia Fire Department and the Richland County Emergency Medical Services about an EMS policy that forbids firefighters from driving ambulances.

After his mother dialed 911 on Sept. 17, firefighters from Engine 13 arrived first and began CPR on the boy. EMS workers arrived shortly afterward.

Critical patients often require two EMS workers to care for them in the back of the ambulance. Because one ambulance carries two EMS workers, that does not leave anyone to drive the ambulance to the hospital.

On Sept. 17th, the EMS workers waited four minutes until another ambulance arrived to provide a driver for the first ambulance, according to a report written by Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Edmonds, who was not at the scene but was the supervisor in charge that day.

Jadan's mother, Jessica Myers, stayed inside the house while firefighters and EMS workers rushed Jadan outside. She watched through a window and said the first ambulance did not leave until a second ambulance arrived.

"I was thinking, 'What is going on? Why haven't they left yet?" Myers said.

Firefighters from Engine 13, meanwhile, were begging EMS workers to let one of them drive the ambulance to the hospital, which was less than a mile away, said Michael Bingham, a Methodist minister and chaplain for the fire department.

Jadan was pronounced dead at the hospital, and firefighters from Engine 13 were distraught, believing the delay contributed to the death. Their unit was taken out of service, and Bingham was called to department headquarters to console them.

"They kept asking me, 'Is there anything constructive we can do?'" Bingham said. "That phrase haunted me all (last) weekend. That's why on Monday I started doing what I thought I could do."

Bingham began by calling his elected officials on the city and county councils. On Thursday night, he spoke to a group of Richland County neighborhood leaders. And Friday, he sent a letter to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts, asking for a coroner's inquest into whether the delay contributed to the death. Watts, who is awaiting autopsy results on the boy, is considering the request.

This isn't the first time the issue has come up. Last year, retired Battalion Chief Scott Fulkerson made a public appeal for the policy to be changed. Now, others are joining him.

Edmonds, a firefighter for 22 years, joined the discussion by adding a personal note at the end of the "All Shifts Weekly Report" on Sept. 19.

"I have seen us spend thousands and in some cases millions of dollars to implement change to potentially save a life. In this case, it would cost nothing and yet we wait ... just as that mother did Thursday morning," Edmonds wrote in the report.

WHAT HAPPENED?

It's unclear if the delay contributed to Jadan's death. According to Myers, her son had been sleeping in his room for more than an hour before she checked on him. When she found him, he wasn't breathing. His eyes were open and staring at the ceiling. His fingertips were blue.

It is unclear how long the child hadn't been breathing.

Jadan was born with sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that can cause other health problems. His condition required frequent doctor visits for blood work.

About a month ago, Jadan started feeling bad. He developed a persistent cough, diarrhea and a temperature of 102 degrees. The Saturday before he died, Jadan felt well enough to attend a Sesame Street Live concert at the Colonial Life arena.

But on Sept. 17, Constance Fair, Jadan's cousin and primary caregiver, awoke at 5 a.m. to find Jadan had had another episode of diarrhea. She cleaned him up, gave him some juice and sent him back to bed before heading off to her job at the state Employment Security Commission.

POLICY

According to the Out of Hospital Care Report for the fire department, the 911 call came in at 10:10 a.m., and firefighters arrived on the scene at 10:17 a.m. The scene was cleared at 10:32 a.m.

The report does not mention when the first or the second ambulance arrived.

Richland County EMS director Michael Byrd did not comment for this story. Richland County spokeswoman Stephany Snowden commented for him.

Snowden said she did not have the EMS incident report and referred all questions about the report to Michael King, Columbia's public safety director who oversees the 911 call center.

King told a reporter for The State newspaper to submit a Freedom of Information Act request, which the reporter did on Thursday. At press time, the report was not yet available.

Snowden said county EMS workers are given discretion when dealing with a cardiac arrest patient.

"Very often a second ambulance will be dispatched at the same time. It would not be accurate to say it is policy that (the) first ambulance cannot leave until a second ambulance gets there," Snowden said. "We will not compromise a patient's care waiting on a second ambulance."

Snowden declined to discuss details of the Sept. 17 incident.

'AN EMOTIONAL STANDPOINT'

Watts said he is still waiting on the final results from the autopsy, but preliminary results indicate Jadan might have had pneumonia.

Watts said in his experience, a public safety response involving a child raises the emotional intensity of the situation and can often cloud judgment afterward of what could have or should have been done.

"As a first responder, you want to do everything you can," Watts said. "Sometimes even first responders ... make a decision not based on the best medical information on the child. A lot of that is from an emotional standpoint. You know, 'Let's do something.' But sometimes there was nothing the first responder or EMS could do. ...

"That is a huge issue when you are doing this. Especially with children," he said. "We've got a great EMS system and a great fire system. I'm not trying to blame either one of them. If they let (firefighters) drive the ambulances or they won't let them drive it - would that make a difference? I just don't think that it would in the majority of (cases)."

Edmonds, the battalion chief for the fire department, agreed that in this case, emotions were high. But he characterized the policy dispute as a "bureaucratic political power struggle" because the Richland County EMS and the Columbia Fire Department are two separate agencies.

"The fact that they are wearing a separate uniform means nothing to that mother. And it means nothing to me either," Edmonds said. "If my child had been in that ambulance, I would have driven that ambulance and suffered the consequences later."

In Lexington County, firefighters are cross-trained to drive ambulances, said Bruce Rucker, the Lexington County public safety director. But Rucker has the advantage of controlling both the county's EMS and the county's fire service.

In Richland County, the city and county have a combined fire department that is run by the city. The county operates the EMS service.

Snowden said Columbia officials have never asked county officials to train firefighters to drive ambulances. She declined to comment when asked whether county officials would be willing to train firefighters to drive ambulances.

King, Columbia's public safety director, said he has a meeting next week with Byrd, the EMS director, to discuss the issue.

"I'm very concerned about the situation," King said. "But what I have some issues with is when we decide we are going to cross that line and say, 'We are now going to dictate to EMS what we think their standard of care can be,' when we don't really have the purview to do so."

'I'M JUST SURPRISED'

Jadan's funeral was Thursday at The Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith on Germany Street. On Friday, Fair and Myers were at Fair's home, watching "The Price is Right" and playing with Jadan's 7-month-old brother, Jevante.

A box of some of Jadan's things sat on a coffee table in front of them. It included a Thomas the Tank Engine toy and the blanket EMS workers had wrapped Jadan in before taking him to the hospital.

Myers and Fair said they didn't know what to think about the delay in transporting Jadan to the hospital.

"I know God calls you home," Fair said. "When it's your time, it's your time. I'm just surprised."

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