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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I disagree with you Ben. He threw away any RESPECT he had for himself, his firefighting brothers, the public he swore to protect, and this profession.

"...a new time low since Mike Schlags's post."

At 18 you don't have the right to criticize much, much less the opinion of a 30+ year VETERAN firefighter/CAPTAIN. I can, without qualification state that Captain Schlag has forgotten more than you will probably ever know. That you disagree with him is your right, but at ONLY 18 you need to be respectful of Captain Schlag's YEARS of experience and knowledge. The man RETIRED after an extensive paid career. That alone DEMANDS a level of respect that, given your rather arrogant and condescending attitude you will NEVER achieve.

You have the right to disagree, but I agree with Jack that you haven't earned the right to characterize Capt. Schlags' post as you did.

Mike is a long-time firefighter with extensive experience. Feel free to disagree with him, but he has earned the right to his opinion in this group.

Then there are your grammatical errors in a post where you called Russ out for "...lacking English skills..." A quick look will show that you had at least two incomplete sentences. Pretty ironic, don't you think.
I waited to see what the fallout would be and I unfortunately predicted correctly. Thanks to Ben and Jack for pointing out my post. I have to say, I shouldn't be surprised anymore with the amount of bravado that comes from some of you who haven't seen crap in your careers, much less a mass casualty incident, but those of you with some years and experience under you belts, well, I thought there might have been at least a little effort to hold back the lynch mob.

While my initial reaction was "how could he?", I choked that back and thought, "That must have taken a lot". I'm sure, for a 28-year veteran who had excellent evaluations and was a member of a special unit to say, "Hey, my head's not in this one, guys" is not something I could ever picture me saying. Even if I had thought those thought, I probably would suck it up and go, which maybe we should question the wisdom of.

Had a firefighter said that to me as we were heading out the door on a call, I don't know that I'd be very understanding, but all of us here have had the luxury of a few days to process the facts (or lack thereof) and should probably do a little introspection prior to shouting "off with his head". Especially the fact that none of us were there and we have no idea what all the facts were.

I get pretty disgusted with those who have seen it all and done it all. I guess I get a little perverse pleasure when I get a chance to drag a big mouth into a moderate amount of hell and they begin to wet their pants. Just as I wouldn't hang you out to dry because you had a normal human reaction to, say, having to scrape up a teenager who is still breathing out of the exposed end of his trachea because half of his head is gone, I would hope you all exercised a little bit of compassion for one of your brothers who had a bad reaction to something that occurred that day.

I don't know this guy, nor do I understand what he was thinking. But I'll tell you this: I'm also a SCUBA instructor. One of the parts of the final check before hitting the water is checking with your buddy to see if they are mentally ready to dive. You can have all the tools and all the experience, but if you aren't with us mentally, because you are preoccupied, or not feeling well, or concerned the dive is over your head, you need to say so. If you don't, you could jeopardize all of us.

I have been in the business since 1980, in special operations since 1985, and a medic since 1987. In each event I go to that's a little hinky, I'm sure I take a little bit of that home with me. I've seen gutted bodies hanging from trees, kids traumatized by people who should be loving them, several deceased individuals partially eaten by their family pets, and commanded multi-building fires and disaster responses. But if I decide tomorrow that the event I'm being dumped out to is a little bit more than I can manage, I hope you all excuse me for saying, "That's enough". I've earned the right.

I'm bowing in the direction of those of you who have wrapped yourselves up in your capes, because you are obviously much more the responder than the rest of us mere humans. Try showing some compassion for a brother. As I said before, God forbid it might happen to you someday. And I promise not to make fun of you if you have to go and clean out your laundry after the call is over with.
After reading the posts related to this article, I see a widely varied group of opinions. I guess I should have explained a bit more in my initial post. Unfortunately, we will probably never know the complete set of circumstances that led to Mr. Ekstrums decision, but from what was reported in this story and others, he simply refused to go when called. Mr. Ekstrums reason for not going was, as he said "Political bantering", and that he "did not want to be part of it". That may or may not be the reason. It's possible that Mr. Ekstrum just could not mentally deal with what had happened, but he was not called until 90 minutes after the initial incident call. He had ample time to go to his superiors and say "I don't think I can handle this call". Instead, when he was called, as a support unit, he refused.
Does this make him a bad person? No, it just makes him a person who made a bad decision. As many of you with more than a few years in this job know, we see the worst of the worst sometimes, but that is part of the job. We are supposed to be professional enough to put our own feelings and opinions aside and do our job. As one reply alluded to, we do not wear our superhero capes, we do the job we signed up for. As a Marine (there are no "former" Marines), I take things like duty, integrity, and commitment seriously. As in the military, when you join the Fire Service, you join knowing that you will be called to do things that most people wouldn't. After 30 years in both Fire and EMS, I have seen a lot of situations where it was extremely difficult to put my personal feelings aside and focus on my job, but that is part of professionalism.
As far as the discipinary part goes, yes, I do believe that Mr. Ekstrum should receive disciplinary measures for what he did, and to reply to one post, yes, you can face criminal charges for malfeasance for refusing to go when called. Going out sick after being called is not a defense. Mr. Ekstrum being retired is not going to make a difference as far as disciplinary goes, it can still affect his retirement.
I realize that not everyone will agree with my opinions, that is why they are opinions. There are many sides to this story, and probably a good deal of it we will never know. But going by what was reported here and in other venues, what is shown on the face of it is Mr. Ekstrum refused to do his job.

That was a very mature and considered response to a complicated situation and I appreciate your viewpoint. If you (anyone) feels like he should be disciplined, whatever, I certainly feel like you are entitled to your opinion and should share it freely (and intelligently) like in Ray's response.

There is a lot to be said for duty when we are faced with a challenging call, to suck it up and do the job. And I too have had to do that and make that decision. But to call the man a disgrace and all the other attacks, not having any other idea as to what occurred, is just making statements so you can listen to your own voice. Try for once, some of you, to feel what it might be like to be in that person's situation and understand that there are actually moments when you need to make a serious gut check and ask yourself, am I going to contribute to solving the problem, or am I going to increase the complexity of it by my inability to think the way I should.

It's called "crew resource management", folks. To have the courage to step up and say, "Something is wrong" is important and the source of a whole additional post I don't have the time to peck out here.

Thanks, Ray, for sharing that piece.
Mick, Well put, after thinking about my initial response, one made quickly, I have to agree with you. Considering how things worked out, him retiring, that was a good end to a tough situation. No further action is needed. Others will learn from the actions and discussions. Whether we know it or not we all have a breaking point, a too many dead babies point, he just hit it at a bad time. We all must take care to deal with our selves and crews to monitor these issues. It is a company officer thing, because we know the players the best. Hang in there.
In the Military this guy would be charged with "showing cowardice in the face of the enemy". If monitoring the call or television for 90 minutes upset him he should have went home sick sooner than later. Instead he hung around for 90 minutes until it was his turn to go. He deserted his his platoon and left them to do the fighting. Unless his immediate family member is hurt of dying no excuse he gives is good enough for me. And it should not be acceptable to anyone else in the fire or emergency medical services.
...or not. He probably would have just gone to sick call if he were in the military.
No he didn't. He was too emotionally distraught to function effectively on the call, and despite how it might have been percieved by others, he did the most courageous thing he could possibly have done - he retired.

Further, can you explain how going to the scene and setting up tents after all of the patients have been transported is "protecting the public"?

He did the right thing under the circumstances. "...threw away any RESPECT he had for himself..."??? Not a chance.
That's not accurate. He was distraught because of the shooting of someone he respected and due to the previous political comments/harassment at his station.

It wasn't politics that caused him to doubt his emotional ability to handle going on that call and doing his job - it was his emotional state.

I think what he did took a special kind of courage, because he knew the likely repercussions.

He had already earned the right to retire, and he did so.

End of story.
"Cowardice in the face of the enemy" means immediate action, like the enemy is there with you. Not 2 hours or 2 days from now...ie receiving the call to respond to the scene then refusing to go, now!
Anyone who doesn't have a problem with what this guy did, I sure wouldn't want working beside me because they could do the same.

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