MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The head of a union representing most of the Memphis Fire Department said three employees who were fired after the death of Tyre Nichols weren’t given enough information as they responded to the call for medical help.
Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, also wrote in a letter to city councilmembers that information was withheld from those first responders by people on the scene.
Nichols, who is Black, was beaten by Memphis police after he was pulled over Jan. 7 for an alleged traffic violation. However, police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis has said publicly released footage failed to show why Nichols was stopped at all.
The union leader came to the defense of the fire department as a whole, saying its more-than-1,600 employees “serve this city and its citizens with purpose and intent each and every day.”
The Daily Memphian reported on and published a copy of the letter, which says “there is no way any member could be truly prepared for a situation that occurred on January 7, 2023.”
“Our members were not given adequate information upon dispatch or upon arrival of the scene,” Malone wrote. “Quite frankly, there was information withheld by those already on the scene which caused our members to handle things differently than they should have.”
Three fire department employees were fired after Nichols died. In all, 13 police officers have either been disciplined or are under investigation for their roles in Nichols’ death. Six were fired, and five of them are charged with murder. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies were also suspended.
Two of the former fire department employees, EMT Robert Long and advanced EMT JaMichael Sandridge, had their professional licenses suspended by a state medical board. Lt. Michelle Whitaker was the third employee let go. Her license was not considered for suspension, though state Emergency Medical Services board members commented that more actions could follow.
Memphis city spokeswoman Arlenia Cole told the Daily Memphian that all three former fire department employees have appealed their firings.
Fire Chief Gina Sweat has said the department received a call from police after someone was pepper-sprayed. When the workers arrived at 8:41 p.m., Nichols was handcuffed on the ground and slumped against a squad car, the statement said.
Long and Sandridge, based on the nature of the call and information they were told by police, “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols,” the statement said. Whitaker remained in the vehicle with the driver during the response to Nichols’ beating, the department said.
An ambulance was called, and it arrived at 8:55 p.m., the statement said. An emergency unit cared for Nichols and left for a hospital with him at 9:08 p.m., which was 27 minutes after Long, Sandridge and Whitaker arrived, officials said. Nichols died three days later.
An investigation determined that all three violated multiple policies and protocols, the statement said.
“They were reacting to what they saw, what they were told at the scene,” Sweat recently told city council members. “Obviously, they did not perform at the level that we expect, or that the citizens of Memphis deserve.”
Before suspending the licenses of Long and Sandridge earlier this month, the state EMS board watched 19 minutes of surveillance video that showed the two first responders as they failed to care for Nichols, who couldn’t stay seated upright against the side of the vehicle, laying prone on the ground multiple times.
EMS board member Sullivan Smith said it was “obvious to even a lay person” that Nichols “was in terrible distress and needed help.”