LANCASTER – One Lancaster firefighter has been fired, and another one has been suspended, after a four-month investigation found misconduct during a medical run in April.
Teresa Forson, Patrick “Pete” Dufner, and Jon Breunig, the firefighters on Medic 1, were dispatched to a call about an intoxicated teenager shortly before midnight on April 11. Upon arrival, the medics found a heavily intoxicated 13-year-old girl.
As reported by the Lancaster Eagle Gazette, according to the crew’s own report and the subsequent investigation, the teenager was uncooperative and argumentative. Before they took her to Fairfield Medical Center for treatment, they used a needle for treatment that, after the incident, supervisors determined was larger than necessary.
City officials placed Dufner and Forson an administrative leave while officials investigated their conduct on the run.
At the end of the investigation, Forson was terminated, effective Aug. 14, and Dufner agreed to a five-day suspension. He will stay at home for two of the five days, and will work the remainder of his suspension in exchange for three days’ of earned vacation pay.
Russ Carnahan, Forson’s attorney, said they plan on taking the city’s decision to arbitration.
In a statement, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 291 President Pete Anson said “(the) charges raised against Firefighter Forson are not supported by the evidence. Once she appeals through arbitration, we believe the decision for termination will be overturned and she will ultimately return to work.”
Scott Wood, the attorney representing Dufner in this matter, said in an e-mail he has advised his client not to comment, as there is an ongoing criminal investigation. However, he said he does not anticipate any criminal charges will be filed against Dufner, and his “client has been cooperative throughout the investigation and is grateful to be back at work, proudly serving his community.”
According to the firefighters’ report, the teenager was uncooperative and swearing at the medics. When the medics arrived at the house, two Lancaster police officer were already there. The medics found the patient upstairs in her room, covering her head with a blanket.
Testimony from Forson and Dufner, in interviews with Assistant Chief KJ Watts, differ on how the situation was handled. According to Forson’s testimony, she pulled the blanket down once off the patient’s head, but Dufner alleged that it happened multiple times.
In his testimony, Dufner said he convinced the patient to calm down and come out of her room so the medics could check her out. The patient cooperated, allowing the medics downstairs to check her vitals.
According to the footage from the police officer’s body cameras, the medics had a difficult time getting the patient to provide details about the night. The patient eventually agreed to be taken to the emergency room, but requested to use the bathroom first.
The medics agreed, and when the patient went to use the restroom, Forson stood in the door to make sure they could get to the patient in case her condition suddenly changed.
As they are waiting, Forson made a comment to the police officers that she hopes she “never has girls.” In her pre-disciplinary hearing with city officials, Forson said she had said that to try and lighten the mood.
Breunig drove the ambulance to the hospital, while Dufner and Forson were in the back of the ambulance with the patient, who was arguing with Forson. According to the report, the two medics determined they would need to give her an IV. Dufner selected a 14-gauge needle, which is a large bore usually reserved for trauma situations.
According to the investigative report, Dufner replaced the needle and waited for Forson to ask for a specific needle. However, she asked for the 14-gauge.
From Dufner’s interview, he selected the 14-gauge as a joke to “defuse the tension.”
“It may not have been right, but it was a stressful situation,” Dufner said.
The needle was inserted into the patient’s arm without trouble. However, the patient was still arguing with Forson at an increasing volume, and Forson’s response alarmed Dufner, according to his testimony.
He said he felt the need to step between them to deescalate the situation.
After Dufner intervened, physically placing himself between the patient and Forson, the patient’s demeanor and treatment of the medics relaxed. By the time they arrived at the hospital, Forson and the patient were no longer at odds.
Once they were at the hospital, Forson took time to clean the patient up while Breunig and Dufner stood outside the ambulance.
In Dufner’s testimony, he said he asked Breunig if he had heard what had happened in the back of the ambulance. When Breunig replied no, Dufner told investigators he said, “Man, they were fighting like cats and dogs.”
The use of the large-bore needle caught the attention of Lt. Shawn Klaameyer later that morning as he reviewed the EMS report, a standard practice supervisors routinely do. According to an e-mail sent to Capt. Slade Schultz, Klaameyer said he first thought the 14-gauge needle was a typo in Forson’s report. When the lieutenant asked her about it, she told him using the needle was part of the plan established by the team.
In Klaameyer’s e-mail, he said he warned Forson there would be further action taken in regards to her decision. He also spoke with Dufner about the situation, who told the lieutenant he had selected the large-diameter needle as a joke, but didn’t dispute the
choice when Forson requested it.
Doctor says she didn’t need an IV at all
According to records obtained by the Eagle-Gazette, a meeting to review the April 11 incident was held April 23 for Breunig, Forson and Dufner, the three medics on the run. Klaameyer, Schultz and Capt. Steve Maffin.
The result of the session was passed to Assistant Chief KJ Watts and Chief David Ward, who in turn passed it to Service Safety Director Paul Martin.
“The delay is just something that happens, with these things. They have to arrange the meetings around everyone’s schedules, Martin said. “Once I was aware of the incident, I sent letters informing Firefighters Dufner and Forson they were to be put on administrative leave and the city would be conducting an investigation.”
Those letters were sent on April 25, just two weeks after the incident. Watts led the investigation, and began conducting interviews with the firefighters involved in the April incident. His questions also addressed Forson and Dufner’s work ethic and demeanor at work.
Among the investigation documents is a letter from Dr. Paul Zeeb to Watts’ request to review the incident. As the Emergency Medical Services director for the Metropolitan Emergency Consortium, Dr. Zeeb is contracted as LFD’s medical director. It is his responsibility to review cases where conduct or decisions of paramedics might be in question.
In his letter, Dr. Zeeb said the use of a 14-gauge IV was not warranted.
“This is a large bore IV and is only indicated in cases where a large volume of IV fluid is indicated or clinical circumstances indicate a large bore IV may be required to resuscitate the patient.”
Because the medical report of the run indicated the patient had normal vital signs, Zeeb said there was no indication the patient needed to have a large amount of fluids replaced. He added there is no indication any IV was necessary.
In his testimony with Watts, Dufner said his issue with the incident wasn’t Forson’s choice to use the large needle, but her bedside manner.
In a pre-disciplinary hearing between Martin and Forson, along with Carnahan, Anson and Union Steward Chris Wikiser, Forson was offered the chance to ask any additional questions or make any comments she felt pertinent to the investigation before Martin made a decision.
In a recording of the session, Forson reiterates when she was handed the 14-gauge needle, she was more concerned about treating the patient, so she used it and “moved on.”
“I understand there’s a question of why this IV was used, and I can assure you that between Dufner and I, it was not an angry thing,” she said during the hearing.
However, in Martin’s statement on the decision to fire Forson, he said he found her story did not match her previous testimony concerning the IV.
“She further lied when she stated that she simply took the needle from Firefighter Duffner when he offered it to her with no discussion. The evidence shows that he offered the 14-gauge needle ‘as a joke’ and then put it back in the kit,” the statement reads.
“Ms. Forson then told Firefighter Dufner to hand her that specific needle and he did. It was Ms. Forson’s decision to use the 14-gauge needle as retribution for the patient’s demeanor. Ms. Forson was clearly dishonest about how this part of the run transpired.”
In his summary of findings in the investigation, Watts said Dufner could not be considered an innocent bystander in this situation. With his years on staff and medical knowledge, Watts said the “joke” about using the large needle should have stopped before it became a reality, as it is not a “split-second” decision.
Dufner has been a member of the Lancaster Fire Department since 2006, with no recorded disciplinary actions. He has since returned to work with the department. His suspension will be served within the year; the days will not be consecutive.
Forson was hired in 2017, and while there haven’t been any records of discipline, there are records of complaints involving her. However, letters addressing the issues from supervisors indicate the complaints are usually related to the team, not specifically Forson. Many of the issues aren’t considered major violations, but are always addressed between a supervisor and Forson.
What happens now?
Stephanie Hall, assistant law director with the city, confirmed the city had requested a special prosecutor with the Ohio Attorney General’s office to investigate the incident. According to Hall, the police department sought assistance form the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.
Additionally, as noted in the agreement between Dufner and the city, there is a second investigation being conducted by the Emergency Medical Services Board. The findings of that investigation will determine if the city will take further disciplinary actions with Dufner, up to and including termination.
The Emergency Medical Services Board falls under the purview of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. A representative said a confidentiality clause prevents members of the investigation division from commenting on any investigations, potential or ongoing.