A veteran firefighter refused to respond to last month’s deadly shooting spree that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wounded because of “political bantering,” and it may have delayed his unit’s assignment to help, according to internal city memos.
The Arizona Daily Star reported Thursday that firefighter Mark Ekstrum’s team, which is specially trained to handle large medical emergencies, was dispatched to assist 90 minutes after the Jan. 8 shooting. The newspaper obtained the memos about the incident through a public records request.
While the crew was not among those first called to the supermarket where six people were killed and 13 others wounded, a memo from Ekstrum’s supervisor said his actions caused “confusion and delay” during the emergency.
One of the fire engines from Ekstrum’s station had to stop at another station to pick up personnel to take his place, according to the Star.
Ekstrum, a 28-year veteran of the Tucson Fire Department, retired two days after the incident while his supervisors were still considering how to discipline him.
Capt. Ben Williams wrote in a report that when Ekstrum first said he would not go on the call, “he mentioned something about ‘political bantering’ and he did not want to be part of it.”
Williams said in the report that he told the 56-year-old firefighter that he could not refuse a call for that reason and then talked to the firefighter privately in his office. He said Ekstrum “started to say something about how he had a much different political viewpoint than the rest of the crew and he was concerned.”
Despite being told that was not acceptable, Williams said Ekstrum informed him he was going home “sick,” so they answered the call without him.
Ekstrum’s crew had been dispatched at 12:03 p.m., seven minutes after the last patient arrived at the hospital, said Joe Gulotta, an assistant fire chief. 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.
Ekstrum declined to comment on the Star’s story and refused to elaborate on any details of the memos when reached at his home Thursday by The Associated Press.
“I have nothing else to say about it,” Ekstrum said.
But the Star said Ekstrum gave a statement Wednesday to the Fire Department saying he was distraught over the shootings and was “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.”
Ekstrum also said in the statement that he had no problem with Giffords and even voted for her in the last election.