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Tuesday, August 29, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 7 

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Staff Editorial


EDITORIAL BOARD

Ed De La Garza                        Miriam A. Garcia                       Brandon Moeller 
Jim Parsons                              Shaun Salnave


A wake-up call for HFD

Houston Fire Chief Lester Tyra on Monday dismissed Larry Wesley, an emergency medical technician, who reportedly stopped to buy doughnuts en route to a hospital with a patient in his ambulance.

Wesley was taking a young boy who had been stabbed to Ben Taub General Hospital in July when he stopped for doughnuts, the boy's mother claimed. After she complained to the Houston Fire Department, a city inspection turned up four policy violations on Wesley's part.

The idea that Wesley, an emergency response employee, would stop for a snack when someone's life could have been in danger is frightening to say the least. But the incident seems par for the course for HFD, which has been involved in a series of embarrassing incidents this year.

In June, 12-year-old Daniel Lopez and his relatives went to a fire station three times for help, complaining of pain in his back, chest and stomach. Paramedics didn't give Lopez a thorough examination and did not offer him medical assistance; several hours later, he died of an aortic aneurysm.

Lopez's parents filed a wrongful death suit against the city and Tyra dismissed firefighter Sergio Lopez early this month for failing to treat the boy. But the Lopez case wasn't the only black mark for HFD this summer. Also in June, 35-year-old Jose Ruiz died after paramedics responded to a call at his house but did not take him to a hospital by ambulance.

And this month, Tyra dismissed a deputy chief and a district chief for allegedly trying to conceal or destroy evidence of complaints against an HFD dispatcher involved in a delayed ambulance response for a mortally wounded police officer last year.

Steps have been taken to try and correct the issues. Tyra ordered HFD to conduct diversity and sensitivity training "to restore the confidence in the Hispanic community," and Mayor Lee P. Brown approved creating a community advisory committee of citizens, community leaders and fire experts who will review departmental policies and recommend improvements.

These are steps in the right direction, but they are hardly a panacea for the trust the fire department has lost. As Tyra has said time and again, the HFD can't be everything to everyone -- but something must be done.

A city cannot be livable unless its residents can trust the services they must depend on. We hope HFD and Houstonians find a way to bridge the gap and restore that trust.

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