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Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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Inspections are better than fines for Dallas Fire-Rescue

We learned this week that Dallas Fire-Rescue will face inspections rather than fines for its improper handling of some patients, including Tony Timpa, who died in its care. That’s the best kind of accountability.

This week’s news is just the latest in a yearslong saga that has seen at least six employees sanctioned by the Texas Department of State Health Services for incidents dating back to 2016. Timpa died Aug. 10 of that year, handcuffed and shackled with zip ties along Mockingbird Lane while medical responders took his blood pressure and administered a sedative. A wrongful death lawsuit against the police officers involved in that case is ongoing.

But there are newer problems, too. As our news colleague Everton Bailey Jr. reported Tuesday, Fire Chief Dominique Artis and City Manager T.C. Broadnax received a notice of violation from the state in September 2021, detailing nine infractions related to the department’s emergency response vehicles in 2019, and the department’s failure in 2020 to ensure that employees follow policies and procedures, including documenting patient care. The notice also said that the city didn’t have a fully active quality management program for its EMS services as recently as February 2020.

After the state originally assessed a $217,500 fine last year, citing 17 potential violations, the city negotiated about half that amount: $108,000. Now, we learn that even that amount has been waived in lieu of surprise inspections.

There must be some enforcement action to ensure that Dallas Fire-Rescue takes the necessary steps so that protocols are followed and emergency patients get the care they need. And while fines may be an appealing punitive measure, they may have actually worked against reform, since training, administration, culture change and other measures all cost money. The department will need more resources, not less, to ensure the highest standards.

Inspections, on the other hand, get right to the source of the problem: first responders violating medical services rules. Under the agreement, the state can conduct unannounced inspections until Aug. 18, 2024, and the city must send semiannual reports on its quality management program.

Dallas Fire-Rescue has already made a start. Spokesman Jason Evans told Bailey the agency has added oversight positions and plans to provide more training and mentorship.

We expect the department to pursue reforms urgently. Lives are on the line, and the public deserves to have confidence that first responders are going to provide the best possible care, even as they work with serious injuries under harsh conditions.

Trust in public servants has taken a nosedive lately, most notably related to police use of force. Firefighters and paramedics must do all they can to avoid a similar crisis of trust.

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