Tucson Firefighter Refused To Respond To Giffords Shooting; Memo Questions "Political Bantering" And Delay

TUCSON, Ariz. - A veteran firefighter refused to respond to last month's deadly shooting spree that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wounded because he had different political views than his colleagues and "did not want to be part of it," according to internal city memos.

In this Jan. 8, 2011 file photo, emergency personnel work at the scene where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others were shot outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. Veteran firefighter Mark Ekstrum refused to respond to the deadly shooting spree because of "political bantering," and it may have delayed his unit's assignment to help, according to internal city memos. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)


Mark Ekstrum's insubordination may have delayed his unit's response because firefighters had to stop at another station to pick up a replacement for him, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

While the crew was not among the first called to the supermarket where six people were killed and 13 others wounded, a memo from Ekstrum's supervisor said his actions caused "confusion and delay" during the emergency.

Ekstrum's team, which is specially trained to handle large medical emergencies, was dispatched to assist 90 minutes after the Jan. 8 shooting.

The 28-year veteran of the Tucson Fire Department retired two days later while his supervisors were still considering how to discipline him, according to the Star, which obtained the memos about the incident through a public records request.

Capt. Ben Williams wrote in a report that when Ekstrum first said he would not go on the call, "he mentioned something about `political bantering' and he did not want to be part of it."

Williams said in the report that he told the 56-year-old firefighter that he could not refuse a call for that reason and then talked to the firefighter privately in his office. He said Ekstrum "started to say something about how he had a much different political viewpoint than the rest of the crew and he was concerned."

Despite being told that was not acceptable, Williams said Ekstrum informed him he was going home "sick," so they answered the call without him.

Ekstrum's crew had been dispatched at 12:03 p.m., seven minutes after the last patient arrived at the hospital, said Joe Gulotta, an assistant fire chief. The team was responding as a support crew with a large delivery truck with tents, medical supplies, water and cots used to assist those who were not seriously injured.

Ekstrum declined to comment on the Star's story and refused to elaborate on any details of the memos when reached at his home Thursday by The Associated Press.

"I have nothing else to say about it," Ekstrum said.

But the Star said Ekstrum gave a statement Wednesday to the Fire Department saying he was distraught over the shootings and was "distracted to the point of not being able to perform my routine station duties to such an extent that I seriously doubted my ability to focus on an emergency call."

Ekstrum also said in the statement that he had no problem with Giffords and even voted for her in the last election.


Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Friendship or lack thereof and politics aside... when the tones drop, we go and do our jobs... period.
That is called "professionalism".
what better way to rise above political bantering than to proudly and professionally do your job. Race, color, creed, political affiliation or economic status should not dictate who we respond to, as Ron said "when the tones drop, we go and do our jobs".
No excuse....well said.
Agreed again. Sad that this guy threw 28 years away in one moment based on a perceived political disagreement. The emergency services workplace should rise above political and religious issues when it comes to doing our job.
Glad he retired, for his sake. He would have been FIRED that day if it was up to me
This just goes against everything that I was taught.
People, we became firefighters to help people, especially when they really need it. That's job one.
If he had not retired he should have been fired, unacceptable. Those judgments are not made by firefighters, you call we go. Flap your lips after the call is over.
Sounds like someone should be fired.
I just read an article where he quit

This Tucson firefighter refused to respond to the Jan. 8 shooting because of political differences with his crew, which delayed his unit’s arrival to the shooting scene, according to published fire department records.

Firefighter Mark Ekstrum’s unit was not a first responder and was called after the last of the 13 wounded gunshot victims had been transported from the scene by paramedics, again, according to what fire officials told The Arizona Daily Star.

Firefighter Ekstrum, a 28-year veteran, retired after the rampage and to avoid having to deal with any disciplinary action. Ekstrum now says he was “too distraught” over Giffords shooting to respond. In my opinion, Ekstrum and the shooter have a lot in common... They are both damaged units. The only good news is that this clown is no longer in a position to interact with the public and represent the fire department in any way.

What an embarrassment to the fire service and what we stand for and believe in. He was not one of us...
From here - http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/18/arizona.shooting.firefighter/
This week, the Arizona Daily Star published an article about the incident. The Tucson Fire Department, in a statement issued Thursday, called out the report's claim that Ekstrum "refused to help" as "simply not true."

"He had an inability to remain at work due to emotional stress related to events he had been watching on television and was (in) no way political," the fire department's statement said.

The fire department said that had he gone, Ekstrum would have joined his crew nearly two hours after the shooting to deliver and set up tents. They didn't treat any victims, who were by then all at hospitals.

This suggests to me that there were other, perhaps greater issues at play here. One has to wonder what the "political bantering" involved, especially given the following comment:
In a statement, dated February 15, Ekstrum wrote that he was a supporter of Giffords, having found her responsive and smart during a previous meeting and voting for her in the previous fall's election.

He further stated, ... he had different political views from his fellow firefighters.
Kind of makes you wonder what the "political bantering" might have been with his fellow firefighters, given that he apparently was a Giffords supporter. Who were the other firefighters rooting for?

The firefighter described himself as "very passionate about our country and distraught over the magnitude" of the shooting targeting the congresswoman.

"Countless thoughts were streaming through my brain," Ekstrum wrote. "I became distracted to the point of not being able to perform my routine station duties to such an extent that I seriously doubted my ability to focus on an emergency call." This as a result of the shooting, the "political bantering" and "different political views from his fellow firefighters?"

We are all affected differently, by different things. Assume some rather heated political discussions around the kitchen table, assume your views are the minority and further assume that perhaps there were some rather *insensitive* comments made while all were watching the news. I suspect that it could indeed render a person distraught, to say the least.

Ekstrum acknowledged, in his statement, that he "failed" to effectively express his sentiment to Williams and others. The next day, he said he felt he had "crossed a line" and "should have been there, regardless of how responsible I was attempting to be from the standpoint of distraction."

With a clearer head he realized he had might have made a grave error in judgment, the Assistant Fire Chief said, ""He's really remorseful, he's apologetic to the community."

I guess my view on the matter is: I'm not going to judge the firefighter on incomplete facts or evidence, rather, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. As a brother I think he deserves that from all of us, at the very least.

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