An internal investigation has been launched after a San Diego Fire-Rescue dispatcher gave the wrong advice after a man was fatally struck by a motorcycle.
Moments after the man's leg had been severed in the crash, a dispatcher told witnesses to remove a belt that had been put on his leg as a tourniquet — a direction that goes against department policy, according to the agency's medical director.
The 49-year-old victim, who has not yet been identified, was standing in the middle of Palm Avenue Monday when he was struck by a motorcycle.
He had multiple serious wounds, including one leg severed below the knee. A witness to the crash used a belt to create a tourniquet.
Anthony Rabaya did exactly what most of us would hope to in an emergency: keep a cool head and make good decisions.
“I just tried. I didn't think about it. I just reacted,” Rabaya said.
His military training and instinct told him to get the bleeding stopped, but a Fire Rescue dispatcher told him otherwise.
In the 911 recording, a dispatcher can be heard telling the people helping the victim to take off the belt.
Caller: "My boyfriend put a belt around his leg because it's bleeding."
Dispatcher: "OK, all right, so they put a tourniquet on his leg?"
Caller: "Uh, no... uh, a belt. We've got the belt around because his leg is chopped off."
Dispatcher: "OK, we need to take that belt off. We don't want to tourniquet it."
Caller (talking to boyfriend): "Take the belt off, she says. Take it off."
“I didn't agree with taking the tourniquet off. Come on, it's an amputation,” Rabaya said.
City of San Diego EMS Medical Director Dr. Jim Dunford said it's the first such mistake he's heard of in 25 years.
“That does in fact run contrary to the way we teach our dispatchers to handle something like that,” Dunford said.
His policy has been in place for the last two years. “Leave [the tourniquet] alone until a firefighter can get there and determine whether it should continue to be there,” Dunford said.
Dunford said responding firefighters reapplied the tourniquet when they arrived. At that time, the victim was still alive.
“I would be very surprised this brief interval of two or three minutes was responsible for the person's passing,” Dunford said.
Thousands of times a day, 911 operators provide the voice of reason in emergencies, but when they're wrong, who else is there to call?
Dunford says he hasn't spoken with the dispatcher to determine how or why she made that
decision, but she will remain on duty while the incident is investigated.
All dispatchers will be reminded during in-service training about the tourniquet policy.
On Tuesday, San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said his department is reviewing the case.
"The Fire Dispatch Center handles 125,000 calls a year. As the Fire Chief, I have confidence in the ability of our dispatchers to handle emergencies efficiently, professionally and appropriately and I want the public to be assured you can have that same confidence," Mainar said.