Firefighter recruit's parents sue

Man died during training in Frederick County

March 10, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The parents of a 23-year-old Gettysburg, Pa., man who died from heat exhaustion while on a training run for Frederick County fire service recruits filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the county and several members of its emergency services division yesterday.

Gaithersburg attorney Kenneth M. Berman said filing a lawsuit was a last resort for James and Shirley Waybright, whose son Andrew J. Waybright collapsed and died in July 2002 after a morning of rigorous calisthenics, sprints and a four-mile run in hot and humid conditions.

His temperature upon arriving at Frederick Memorial Hospital 30 minutes after he passed out was 107 degrees, according to hospital records.

"They hope to gain some closure, and because they were not wealthy folks by any shape or form, they hope for money to continue to run their farm," said Berman, who added that Andrew Waybright was his father's main helper on the farm. "Although that's never going to make up for the loss of their son, it will help their economic situation."

Despite findings from a Frederick County board of inquiry and Maryland Occupational Safety and Health that human error was to blame for putting Andrew Waybright in a life-threatening situation, Berman said his parents never received a formal apology from the Frederick County Fire and Rescue division.

John L. Thompson Jr., president of the Board of County Commissioners, declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter and noting the pending litigation. County Attorney John S. Mathias said the county had not been served with lawsuit papers yet. He said that there had been correspondence between the county and the Waybrights, but he declined to elaborate.

Berman said Waybright's parents were somewhat comforted by the closing of the Frederick County Public Safety Training Center. The center was shut down after official reports blamed instructors for allowing recruits to train without frequent water breaks, communication or first-aid.

"If it gets reopened, the Waybrights hope that it be done with precautions so this will never happen anywhere," Berman said. "They hope all fire training facilities are made safer."

The suit names as defendants Frederick County Department of Fire and Rescue Services; Walter F. Murray, director of the county's Fire Emergency Division; Jeffrey Coombe, training officer; Stanley Poole, member of Fire and Rescue Services; and 20 other members of Fire and Rescue Services.

Andrew Waybright helped his parents on their Gettysburg farm, but volunteering at Carroll County's smallest fire company in Harney and working as a full-time paid emergency medical technician in Taneytown fueled his passion to be a firefighter.

"From the time he was a little kid, it was his dream job," Berman said.

Members of Waybright's family - his mother and father, and his two brothers, Bradley and Christopher - also were volunteers at the Harney fire company.

Andrew Waybright was thrilled, Berman said, when he was hired by Frederick County as a full-time firefighter. He began 20 weeks of recruit school July 1, 2002. Two days later, he suffered cardiac arrest and died of hyperthermia, according to the state medical examiner's office.

Taneytown fire chaplain Charlie Barnhart said Waybright's death shocked the close-knit community.

"There was a lot of anger because of those training procedures," he said. "Andy was a fantastic individual. Andy would take the shirt off his back for you. He's sorely, sorely missed."

The suit alleges that "instructors neither brought water nor informed the recruits to bring water for the day's strenuous activities in the blistering heat."

The temperature climbed to 84 degrees with a heat index of 96 degrees an hour and a half after training began that day at 7 a.m.

The suit also blames the training instructors for not informing recruits about where they were going, the duration of the training or what kinds of exercises they would be doing.

A lack of communication devices and emergency vehicles at the site also prevented the timely administration of medical aid to Waybright, the suit contends.

It also lists as contributing factors to Waybright's death the steady build-up of exercises that recruits did that day, including: 100 jumping jacks, 50 push-ups, 20 abdominal crunches, 20 squats, wind sprints and a four-mile run.

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