HONOLULU (KHON2) — The union representing Emergency Medical Services workers is calling on the department to begin vehicle inspections after one of its ambulances caught fire killing a patient and critically injuring a paramedic.
The EMS community is still reeling from the ambulance fire Wednesday night that killed the 91-year-old patient and left 36-year-old paramedic Jeff Wilkinson, in critical condition.
According to Dr. Jim Ireland, Honolulu Emergency Services Director, Wilkinson had been with EMS for more than 10 years.
“We’re still hoping for the best for his recovery,” Ireland explained. “I’ve not spoken to the family today. We’re trying to really respect their privacy.”
He said he faces a long road ahead to recovery.
Kea Smith, a paramedic and friend of Wilkinson’s, started a GoFundMe to help offset his medical costs.
Ireland said that a multi-agency investigation is underway to find out what happened and that everything is on the table including the possibility that oxygen may have been involved.
“Studies in hospitals have found that 50 to 100 fires a year in hospitals are associated with flammable anesthetics, which we don’t use, or oxygen,” Ireland explained. “We know that this can happen.”
But said it’s too early to know if it had anything to do with the ambulance fire.
In a statement Kalani Werner, State Director, United Public Workers, said:
“United Public Workers has received assurances that EMS is taking prompt and proactive action to help personnel cope with this tragic incident while continuing to serve their communities. United Public Workers has requested EMS initiate vehicle inspections, even on rigs that are reported as operable or with no signs of defect on daily inspection reports. Most importantly, members are asked to immediately report workplace safety issues by bringing them to the attention of their direct supervisor.”
The tragedy sparked widespread concerns.
“Everybody is reflecting on their own operations and could this happen to them and could this happen again?” Ireland said. ” And that’s why it’s very important that we get our investigation completed to get answers that we really need to make any necessary changes for safety.”
The situation’s taken a serious toll.
“It’s stressful enough dealing with enormous amounts of calls and tragedies that they respond to,” Ireland explained. “To have somebody from your team get hurt, to have somebody who works with us and works every day with the paramedics and EMTs out there, it’s just that much harder.”
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Ireland said counseling and peer support groups will be available to anyone who needs it.