Rantz: 13-yr-old watches father die as staffing crisis likely delayed police, fire response

Nov 12, 2021, 9:48 AM | Updated: Nov 13, 2021, 6:27 am
seattle medics, fire...
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

In two 911 calls, a 13-year-old Seattle teen pleaded for help as his father suffered a medical emergency in their apartment. But what would normally elicit an immediate response was delayed, and the father died. First responders blame the city’s ongoing staffing crisis, which was worsened by the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

When Seattle Fire arrived, they were told to wait for police before entering. The address was flagged as unsafe for Seattle Fire to enter. At the time, the precinct was down two officers, leaning on non-patrol volunteers to meet minimum staffing levels. It took Seattle police 15 minutes to arrive, delaying medics from performing life-saving measures. Despite their best efforts, the father died. And it turns out the address was flagged due to a previous tenant and did not apply to its current residents.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s COVID vaccine mandate crippled already understaffed police and fire departments. They do not have enough employees to respond to emergency calls. And through no fault of Seattle police or Seattle Fire, a man is dead when he might have been saved.

A delayed emergency response

The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH obtained documents and 911 calls outlining the tragic events of this Nov. 2 incident in Seattle’s Crown Hill neighborhood. Several sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, provided background to better explain the incident.

The teen first called 911 at 1:24 p.m. to explain that his 45-year-old father was experiencing a medical emergency. He wasn’t sure what it was.

“Is he conscious?” the operator asks the teen about his dad.

“I don’t know. I think he … yeah, he’s conscious but he’s not OK. Hurry,” the soft-spoken teen responded.

The teen said his father was “making a moaning noise,” according to the incident report.

At 1:26 p.m., the call was dispatched to Seattle Fire.

A medic unit would respond first, given what is known now. These are units staffed with two medics and have the most medical experience. But Seattle Fire was down one medic unit due to the staffing crisis. A spokesperson for Seattle Fire notes that the initial dispatch was for an aid response and that a medic on duty would not have been sent early on.

Instead, A18 (“Aid-18”) was assigned to the incident and arrived within five to six minutes. This unit is comprised of two firefighters. But they could not enter the residence without officers present.

Seattle Fire warned not to enter without police

When the 911 call came in, the dispatcher twice alerted Aid-18 that the resident has a history of threats toward police and firefighters.

The dispatcher instructed the firefighters that they must “be accompanied by SPD to secure the scene.” This is known as a “cautionary premise note,” which is meant to provide information to Seattle Fire in order to keep them safe when entering a residence.

A18 drove around the block and staged, waiting for SPD at approximately 1:32 p.m., according to a source. They hit their on-scene button at 1:35 p.m., according to the incident report.

As A18 waited, the teen called 911 a second time at 1:37 p.m. — 13 minutes after his initial call. He told the dispatcher that his father is barely breathing. You can hear a panic creeping into his voice as he watched his father’s condition worsen.

“He wasn’t like this before, I’m just really worried,” he told a new dispatcher.

“Look at his chest. Tell me if it’s rising and falling,” the dispatcher asked.

“Barely. Almost not at all,” he responded. “Almost. He’s still moving.”

A18 was done waiting

In a medical emergency, every second counts. But, according to the incident report, a police unit wasn’t assigned to the incident until almost 1:37 p.m. — a full 11 minutes after the dispatcher sent units to the residence.

A18 waited for about seven minutes. With another call from the teen coming through, the firefighters made a decision.

They cautiously entered the residence without police at approximately 1:39 p.m.

The firefighters started CPR when they saw the father. E35 (“Engine 35,” which comprises four firefighters) arrived a minute later to assist. Soon after, the police showed up.

Police arrive, but it’s too late

Police arrived on the scene — at 1:45 p.m. — and began to assist. At the same time, M10 (“Medic-10 unit, comprised of two medics) arrived at the scene.

A source says Seattle police escorted the teen to the apartment’s lobby, as others worked to save his father. But it would be too late. Despite an hour-long resuscitation effort, they were unable to keep the man alive.

Due to privacy laws, the 911 calls were redacted when the teen details specific medical issues his father was facing. The medical examiner, as of this week, hasn’t released a cause of death. But two veteran medics familiar with the incident explained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that this was likely avoidable.

One medic explained that “had it been addressed early, his chance of survival would have been 60%.”

The medic believes it was a ventricular fibrillation arrest based on details from the case and noted “it’s very save-able,” so long as it’s treated quickly. Indeed, Public Health of Seattle & King County notes a 67% survival rate if Seattle first responders get to the patient before the cardiac arrest. It’s just 21% if they arrive after. It’s unclear when the father went into cardiac arrest.

The medic says that this specific heart issue explains why the resuscitation efforts were attempted at the residence, instead of at a hospital. This process is normal, the medic says.

It wasn’t just a staffing issue that delayed the response. An error also played a role in this outcome: The cautionary premise note on the address was outdated.

Outdated warning delayed response

In the aftermath of the tragedy, it became clear that the cautionary note attached to the address should not have been there. At least, not for the current tenants.

A spokesperson with Seattle Fire confirmed the warning was for the apartment’s previous tenant. That tenant was “known to be combative towards SFD and SPD.” But that tenant moved out of the apartment, and the victim and his son recently moved in. The cautionary note was never removed from Seattle Fire’s internal system.

“Unfortunately, we learned during the most recent emergency response that the cautionary note was for a previous tenant,” a spokesperson for Seattle Fire emailed the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We are carefully reviewing this incident from many angles in our department (operations, dispatch, etc.) and our Premise Notes Policy.”

This incident revealed a flaw in the system. It only checks the premise notes every two years. How is Seattle Fire to know when a potentially dangerous tenant moves out? The spokesperson said the department recently installed a new system “which includes the capability to verify premise notes and alert operations companies on a more frequent basis.”

Unless the check is daily, there could be situations like this that fall through the cracks. But it’s why Seattle Fire relies on Seattle police in situations like these.

Staffing crisis played a role

The prevailing opinion amongst Seattle Fire and SPD is that the current staffing crisis is to blame. It was not the fault of officers that they couldn’t arrive at the scene sooner, they say.

One medic noted to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that officers often arrive on scene at the same time as they do — sometimes earlier. But since the mass exodus of officers accelerated in 2020, after months of abuse from local activists in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, the situation has deteriorated.

Due to severe staffing shortages, police in the North Precinct — where the teen and father lived — are the slowest precinct to respond to 911 calls. According to a city report from August 2021, the average response time for priority 1 calls (emergencies in progress) was nearly 13 minutes in Q2 of this year. The average response time for priority 2 calls was an astonishing 61 minutes.

The vaccine mandate only accelerated the crisis.

Vaccine mandate turned a crisis into a catastrophe

Durkan’s vaccine mandate took nearly 100 officers off the streets in mid-October. Officer terminations are pending. At the time, the department was already dangerously understaffed with just over 1,000 deployable officers in the department. Now, it’s under 1,000.

“One call could take out an entire precinct, wiping us out completely,” one officer told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

After the vaccine mandate, the department acknowledged internally that it did not have enough staff to respond to 911 calls. Several emails obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH show SPD staff asking for non-patrol officers to volunteer to take open patrol shifts.

On the day of the incident, the 2nd Watch was down two patrol officers. A spokesperson with Seattle Police confirmed that the precinct filled the open shifts with volunteer, non-patrol officers. At 12:38 pm that day, an all-staff email went to officers noting that General Investigation Unit detectives helped the department reach minimum staffing levels.

But one officer tells me that the staffing shortage happens “every day, every shift, in every precinct.” Another officer cites the North Precinct as being especially impacted.

Even with the address warning as potentially dangerous, short of a major citywide emergency, officers would have been able to respond relatively quickly with normal staffing.

Similarly, Seattle Fire had staffing problems before the vaccine mandate. But afterward, they’ve been forced to turn units offline in staggering numbers.

This could get worse

Instead of addressing the staffing crisis, there’s concern that city leadership is making it worse.

In their 2022 budget, Seattle City Council members proposed nearly $11 million in SPD cuts. It includes cuts to the very hiring incentives that could help bring in much-needed police. And the mayor, at any point, could rescind the order sidelining the nearly 100 officers who will not comply with her vaccine mandate. Officers argue the bigger public health and safety threat is the lack of police.

In the end, the staffing crisis contributed to the death of an innocent father. Had the police been able to arrive sooner, CPR would have commenced roughly seven minutes sooner. Would that have saved the father’s life? We won’t ever know.

What we do know is that a 13-year-old did what he was should have by calling 911. But he ended up watching his father suffer and die. And it was likely preventable.

Did you like this news and analysis? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  and Instagram, and like me on Facebook

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Rantz: 13-yr-old watches father die as staffing crisis likely delayed police, fire response