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Firefighters suspended for having living woman declared dead

The firefighters were disciplined for calling an ER doctor for a death pronouncement despite not having assessed the patient themselves.

DENVER — Two Denver firefighters are being suspended for having a woman declared dead when she was actually still alive. 

An order of disciplinary action from the Denver Department of Public Safety says on June 24, two firefighters went to help Denver Police officers with a welfare check of a woman. One of the officers went inside to check on the woman, came out and said the woman had lividity (bluish-purple discoloration of the skin seen on a deceased person) and fluid leaking from her body, and that she smelled like she was decomposing.

Lieutenant Patrick Lopez said the officer told firefighters they didn't need to go inside because the woman was "obviously dead." Lopez told his crew to stay outside.

Lopez told Firefighter Marshall Henry to call Denver Health and ask for a field pronouncement of death from an emergency room doctor, according to the order, even though neither of them had assessed the woman themselves. 

Henry described the woman's condition to the doctor as being "in an advanced state of death." The order says Henry answered the doctor's questions as if he had personally assessed the woman. The doctor then provided a pronouncement and time of death. 

The order says the fire department crew left and a police officer went back inside the home to look for weapons. While he was in there, he noticed the woman was moving. He then called for Denver Fire and EMS to come back, and she was taken to the hospital. 

The order says Henry realized his mistake and notified his district chief and an EMS educator. Lopez also told his superior. 

The officer denied telling the Denver Fire crew not to go inside, according to the order, and the investigation revealed it was more likely than not that Lopez had lied to his supervisors in order to shift blame to the officer.

Lopez was demoted from lieutenant to firefighter and given a 14-shift (336 hour) suspension without pay.

Henry was given a 10-shift (240 hour) suspension without pay.

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