Ariz firefighter too distraught to respond to call
2011-02-19 - 05:15:35 - Current News
A veteran firefighter who refused to respond to last month's shooting spree in Tucson that left six people dead and U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords wounded said he was too distraught and distracted to focus on the emergency. Mark Ekstrum retired from the Tucson Fire Department two days after the Jan. 8 shootings, while his supervisors were still considering how to discipline him. He had been with the department for 28 years. Ekstrum's insubordination was first reported by the Arizona Daily Star, which obtained internal city memos on the matter. The newspaper reported Ekstrum may have delayed his unit's response because firefighters had to stop at another station and pick up a replacement for him. Ekstrum, 56, declined again Friday to discuss the incident. Instead, he referred to a statement he gave fire department officials earlier this week explaining his actions. Ekstrum said in the statement he was aware of the shooting from TV reports and became "distraught over the magnitude of how this would affect our country." "Countless thoughts were streaming through my brain. ... I became distracted to the point of not being able to perform my routine station duties to such an extent that I seriously doubted my ability to focus on an emergency call," his statement said. "I decided for the best interest of my crew, and more importantly the citizens, to go home on sick leave and return to emergency work the next shift when I would be more focused." Ekstrum added he "failed to communicate my situation to my supervisor correctly at the time of the incident." He said he realized the next morning that he shouldn't have refused the call. He then decided to retire. Ekstrum's crew was not among the first called to the supermarket where six people were killed and 13 others wounded. But it was specially trained to handle large medical emergencies and was dispatched to assist 90 minutes after the shooting. The team was responding as a support crew with a large delivery truck with tents, medical supplies, water and cots used to assist those who were not seriously injured. Assistant Chief Joe Gulotta said Friday that Tucson's firefighters put the community first, and Ekstrum's failure to do so was "inexcusable." "In 22 years, I have never heard of someone not responding to a call because they were distraught," Gulotta said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "You go on a call when you're asked to go on a call. That's our job. That's what we do." He said his department has no recourse against Ekstrum now because of the retirement. "Everybody has their own threshold for different things," Gulotta said. "He had a physical response that kept him from performing his duties. This is an isolated individual. This is not what the Tucson Fire Department is about." Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.