While responding to a 911 call last Saturday, volunteer firefighters James Kelley and Virgil Bloom had a split-second decision to make. They were faced with an unresponsive toddler who had suffered a seizure and was turning blue from lack of oxygen, and the nearest ambulance was several miles away.
After two failed attempts to contact the local ambulance crew, Kelley and Bloom, members of the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department in Fredericksburg, Virginia, elected not to wait.
“I looked at my driver, without any hesitation, and I said, ‘Turn it around, we’re going to the hospital,’” Kelley said.
They loaded the patient, 18-month-old Lena Nunamaker, into the back seat of the fire truck for transport to the hospital and hooked her up to an oxygen mask. A basic life support ambulance offered to rendezvous with the crew to transfer the patient, but Kelley decided it was better to continue on to the hospital without stopping. The toddler survived and is now reportedly in good health.
Because their vehicle was not licensed to transport medical patients, Kelley and Bloom were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department, which oversees the Falmouth volunteer squad.
Kelley, who also serves as a firefighter in Washington, D.C., denied that he or his team did anything wrong.
“She was completely limp in my arms,” he said. “I’m 100 percent confident what I did was the right thing.”
Stafford County Fire Chief Mark Lockhart said in a press conference this afternoon that it was standard operating procedure to place the firefighters on leave while they conducted an investigation. Although the review found that department medical protocol had not been followed and was being addressed with the individuals involved, Lockhart said he was restoring both Kelley and Bloom to operational status.
“It is my desire to conclude this matter with the leadership at Falmouth and get them back to doing the good work of Stafford County Fire and Rescue,” Lockhart said.
Falmouth Fire Chief Christopher Smith said that he supported Kelley and Bloom’s decision.
“If I was in the same position, I would have done the exact same thing,” Smith said. “We understand policy, we understand protocol, we understand operating guidelines, but they are just that. They’re guidelines.”
Brian Nunamaker, the toddler’s father, released a statement praising Kelley and Bloom and thanking them for saving his daughter’s life.
“The actions of these men represent a dedication to their mission, and a deep concern of doing what is best for the people they are serving,” Nunamaker said. “In our eyes, they are heroes.”