Paramedic Has Discipline Reduced at Hearing

Posted on Thursday, January 01, 1998 at 12:00PM

Petersen Law Firm attorney, Carmen Brock was recently successful in obtaining a significant reduction in discipline for an Alhambra firefighter/paramedic accused of threatening a member of the public.

During the evening of September 3, 1996, paramedic Scott Burnside and his co-workers responded to a medical aid call where a male Hispanic citizen had reportedly been hit by a car.

When the paramedics arrived on the scene it became apparent that the citizen had not been hit by a car, but rather, had thrown himself into the side of the vehicle, most likely in an effort to stage an accident.

On that night, Burnside was assigned to be “radio man” on the paramedic team. The responsibilities of a “radio man” include driving the paramedic van, assessing the scene of the accident, and completing the written report of the incident

Burnside was also acting as the “preceptor” for a paramedic trainee. Burnside’s partner was the “patient man” whose duties were to conduct a physical assessment and to be in charge of the care and treatment of the patient.

From the moment the paramedics arrived on the scene, the citizen presented an extreme challenge to the paramedics. He shouted vulgarities at them, tried to make himself vomit, pinched the skin on his chest, and generally acted disoriented and unruly.

In response to questions from the paramedics, he inappropriately responded that he “was a registered Republican” and “had two slices of pizza for dinner.”

As it is key to the job of a paramedic to assess the true mental status of a trauma victim for the purposes of determining appropriate hospital disposition, it was critical that it be determined whether the citizen was really in an altered mental state, or simply faking the symptoms of disorientation as part of his ruse.

From Burnside’s interview of witnesses at the scene, he quickly determined that the citizen had been seen running down the sidewalk adjacent to the intersection and had thrown himself on the hood of a vehicle then stopped at the crosswalk.

The citizen then positioned himself in front of the vehicle until the paramedics arrived.

Given the information he had received, Burnside rejoined his partner and the paramedic trainee who had secured the citizen on a transport backboard and had loaded him into the paramedic van. Still unruly and belligerent, the citizen continued to thwart the paramedics efforts to assess his true mental status.

As part of his preceptor training, Burnside began to question the paramedic trainee regarding the appropriate hospital receiving center as he dialed the base station nurse to obtain transport orders.

When the trainee mentioned County USC Medical Center, the local trauma center, the citizen suddenly became more lucid and said “you ain’t taking me to no f-ing county hospital.”

Realizing the citizen had, in fact, been faking, Burnside told the citizen in graphic terms that if he did not cooperate with them to get a proper assessment of his mental status, he would find himself undergoing a rectal exam and a catheterization as part of a trauma assessment at the hospital.

Based on the turn-around in the citizen’s behavior, which served to confirm the paramedics suspicion that he was not injured, the citizen was transported to a local hospital.

Upon arrival, the citizen promptly signed out against medical advice without being treated for his alleged injuries.

While at the hospital the citizen complained bitterly that his “civil rights” had been violated.

It was no surprise, therefore, that a citizen’s complaint was filed with the fire department, and an investigation ensued.

It was, however, clearly beyond the weight of the investigative evidence that Burnside ever threatened the citizen, nor intended him harm.

At best, it was conceded that the comments made were not courteous, albeit necessary, given the circumstances. In support of Burnside’s case, Dr. Charles Trammel, emergency room physician, confirmed that the comments made by Burnside were accurate statements of medical treatment and were by no means “threats.”

The Alhambra Civil Service Commission returned a specific finding that Burnside did not threaten a member of the public.

Although the commission upheld a finding of a discourteous comment, they determined Burnside’s pay reduction to have been excessive punishment, and ordered his pay reinstated.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.