Washington state fire department used dead body for training without family's consent: report

A Washington state fire department is feeling a different kind of heat after an investigation revealed that some employees used the body of a recently deceased person to practice multiple intubations, according to a new report.

In July, the unidentified body was taken to the Bellingham Fire Department’s Fire Station 1 to await pickup from a funeral home. While there, several department members including a division chief and EMS captains, practiced multiple intubations on the body, the Bellingham Herald reported, citing information received from the city’s communications director.

The fire chief confirmed the report to the newspaper, saying in a prepared statement that he had first learned of the incident in early August.

“This incident was neither normal nor acceptable,” Fire Chief Bill Newbold said. “The chief officer directing this activity was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a complete and thorough investigation.”

He added: “The investigation confirmed to me that the actions of the personnel involved were unacceptable and constitute serious misconduct.”

Vanessa Blackburn, the city’s communications director, told the newspaper that the fire department did not seek nor did it receive permission to perform the medical procedure from the deceased person’s family, adding that officials acted at the direction of the chief officer present. She said the chief officer wrongly believed that the situation was an appropriate training opportunity.

“That direction was inappropriate and inconsistent with our expectations of chief officers,” she said.

The staff involved in the incident received suspension without pay or letters in their personnel files, depending on the extent of their involvement, Blackburn said. One officer who had been with the department for 28 years retired, while another officer, a 23-year veteran with the department, resigned, she added.

The names of the employees involved were not released.

“These actions stand to violate the trust between our department and the community we serve, which we have earned through over a century of exemplary service,” Newbold said. “Going forward, the firefighters, paramedics and staff of the Bellingham Fire Department will continue to work hard in service to our community.”

Mayor Kelli Linville told the newspaper in a prepared statement that she was “very disturbed” when she learned of the incident and praised the swift actions by Newbold.

“We took it very seriously, taking the steps to make sure that the people who were responsible have been held accountable,” she continued. “What happened was wrong and I want to assure the community that it won’t happen again.”