MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — The chief of the Memphis Fire Department said Tuesday that fire personnel were not told they were responding to a critical injury when they arrived at the scene of a pepper spray incident on Jan. 7.
But once EMTs found Tyre Nichols badly injured and propped up against a police vehicle, they failed to follow policies and procedures to render aid, and that is why they are no longer with the department, Chief Gina Sweat told Memphis city council members.
“They should have done a more thorough assessment when they were on the scene,” she said.
Sweat told Memphis City Council that the EMTs at the scene that night were initially told they were responding to a pepper spray incident, not a critical injury.
Sweat described that as a “fairly routine” call and said MFD had responded to 140 pepper spray calls in the past six months. No one communicated to dispatch that the call needed to be upgraded.
“Once they arrived on the scene, they did not have the video to watch to know what happened before they got there, so they were reacting to what they saw, what they were told at the scene,” Sweat said. “Obviously, they did not perform at the level that we expect or at the level the citizens of Memphis deserve.”
Officials said the employees who responded to Tyre Nichols on Jan. 7 were placed in a remedial training program soon after the incident.
But Sweat said she did not see video of the Jan. 7 call that led to the death of Nichols until it was released to the public 20 days later.
EMS Chief Angie Sullivan with the fire department did view the videos two days before the Friday, Jan. 27 public release by the City of Memphis. Sullivan said even without seeing the video, other protocols were put in place and the firefighters involved were pulled from the field.
“Any time there is a large incident we do a quick review, we will pull the documentation and do a quick review of protocols to make sure they were followed. We did that as with this case and immediately placed personnel on remediation just based on precautionary to make sure the skill level met,” Sullivan said.
“Because we couldn’t use it in their administrative actions so when it was released on Friday we had already scheduled their administrative hearings on Monday. That was the first day that it could have actually been done,” Sweat said.
Three fire department employees — two EMTs and a lieutenant— were terminated by the department the following Monday after the videos’ release.
The Memphis Fire Department has 1,623 commissioned firefighters and 150 civilian personnel, 45% of whom are African American.
Sweat said the department is reviewing policies to make sure all MFD personnel know what they are responsible for and are held accountable. The chief said she is also in communication with Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis to improve things when the departments are communicating in the field.
“It starts with us, it starts with me,” she said.