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Body misused in training exercise, Bellingham firefighters reprimanded

Bellingham Fire Dept.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Mayor Kelli Linville said a training exercise went horribly wrong for a group of city firefighters when they mishandled a body.

Crews set out to practice their intubation skills, but the fire chief called their actions unprecedented and wrong.

When firefighters race to a call they have to be ready for so many situations - including helping unconscious patients to breathe. However, Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Newbold said the preparations staff took at Fire Station 1 crossed the line.

“I believe that this ended up to be completely misguided," Newbold said.

In July, a body was brought to Fire Station 1 to await transport to a funeral home. Before the body was taken away, city officials said a group of 11 firefighters used it to practice intubations, where a tube is inserted down the throat to open an airway.

“When you have someone who has passed away and their family isn't there to take care of them, we are the caretaker and we did not do our duty,” said Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville.

Several firefighters came forward later to report what they did.

“In hindsight, when they looked back at the totality of the event, I do believe that there was some concern,” Newbold said.

An investigation was launched and two firefighters have since resigned. The other nine were docked pay and had letters of reprimand placed in their files.

“We do value the trust that the public provides us and we want to be good stewards of that,” Newbold said.

In addition, city leaders are also reviewing all training procedures and protocols, saying they never want an incident like this to happen again.

Intubation is a skill paramedics routinely practice. It is often done on the job when fire crews are working to revive unconscious patients. Training can also occur in hospital operating rooms or by using practice mannequins.

Lots of complications can result from a bad intubation including brain damage, cardiac arrest or death.

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