Medics fired for mistakenly declaring man dead, officials say

Published: May. 6, 2023 at 11:40 AM PDT
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Clearwater, Fla. (WFTS) - Two Florida medics were fired after officials say they declared a man dead while he was still alive.

Their supervisor says it was not a training issue or an equipment issue, but a total lack of human compassion.

In February, Phoebe Maxwell says she found her dad, Thomas Maxwell, on the floor faintly breathing she called 911 and began CPR.

“When I was giving my dad CPR, his chest was rising and falling,” she said.

When Clearwater Fire and Rescue showed up, Phoebe Maxwell says the medics told her to stop and that her dad was dead.

“I said, ‘He is still alive. He’s not dead,’” she said.

That memory still haunts Phoebe Maxwell as she recalls hearing her father gasp for air.

It was reported that when law enforcement showed up, they witnessed “agonal respiration,” essentially a gasping breath, after medics on scene had already left, failing to reassess Thomas Maxwell and placing a sheet over his body.

“The fact that the patient had an agonal respiration should have indicated to the two medics. They should have reassessed their initial findings,” Clearwater Fire Chief Schott Ehlers said. “This is where they failed and showed no concern for family pleas or a second consideration for the patient.”

Ehlers said both medics had years of service, and that this was not an equipment issue but a lack of compassion.

Both have been fired for not following proper protocol.

But, for Pheobe Maxwell, she says the trauma lives on.

“I have nightmares all the time. I don’t sleep well. Getting up, checking on him all the time,” she said.

Phoebe Maxwell says her dad, who is still alive, was angry at first and now is resentful.

“He says it’s hard. He doesn’t ever want to deal with 911 again,” Phoebe Maxwell said.

Ehlers, who has been in the business for 45 years, says to hear that “cuts to the core of my heart.”

“Our whole purpose for this is for the people that are out there. That is why we are what we are,” he said. “They call us for when they need help … We respond in the most expedient manner with compassion. And it tears me apart to see individuals in this profession that do not have the compassion.”

Meanwhile, Phoebe Maxwell says she still deals with the pain of not knowing why this even happened.

“I just wish it never would have happened. It would have taken all of two minutes to take his blood pressure, if even that,” she said. “And we wouldn’t be talking.”