Words that burn Fire captain's remarks: Cleared of impeding service, his comments still were out of line.

October 03, 1997

ANNAPOLIS FIRE Captain Gene Kirchner still has a great deal to explain.

He has been cleared of the most egregious charges that he blocked his firefighters from rendering aid to a heart attack victim during a call last summer. Nevertheless, the veteran firefighter remains under investigation for using inappropriate language after that call, during which 28-year-old Sean E. Lucas died of a heart attack.

Race is at the center of this controversy. Mr. Lucas, a black man in poor health, had called emergency assistance numerous times since the beginning of the year. Some EMS personnel apparently considered him a nuisance.

But regardless of how frustrating it may have been to repeatedly send ambulances and fire trucks to his home, Mr. Lucas was entitled to emergency service.

From the evidence assembled so far, it appears that whenever Mr. Lucas called, he received appropriate, speedy and professional assistance -- including the last time when he suffered his fatal heart attack. Every Annapolis resident must know he or she can rely on highly competent care, regardless of race or economic status. Although the city has completed its investigation into response time in the July 14 incident, a federal investigation of possible civil rights violations continues.

What is troubling in this case is that Captain Kirchner may have demonstrated extremely poor leadership, especially if he used vile and racist language in complaining about Mr. Lucas' frequent calls.

If he made derogatory comments to his subordinates, Captain Kirchner was setting a poor example. This is not the kind of behavior one expects from a 30-year veteran of the Annapolis fire department.

Paramedics and firefighters often are called to situations in which foolish people have caused considerable harm to themselves or others. The public, though, expects these trained professionals to keep their opinions to themselves.

Captain Kirchner's comments, as alleged, were inexcusable. He is in a highly visible position. He helps set the tone for the department.

Anyone who holds a leadership role in a fire department must handle himself or herself better than that in a crisis.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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