IFPD reviews Reyes case and upholds dismissal

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Capt. James Reyes File photo

Capt. James Reyes
File photo

Nearly two years after terminating former Capt. James Reyes and nearly four months since an administrative law judge recommended reversing that action, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s commissioners decided to uphold Reyes’ dismissal and rejected his appeal.

While the commission hopes that case has ended, Reyes’ Riverside County Superior Court case against IFPD has a trial readiness conference scheduled for July 28, so it continues.

Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz decided to terminate Reyes after an investigation of his actions during a medical call involving an infant fatality in Pine Cove on Jan. 17, 2014.

Following the investigation, conducted by Kent McCurdy, IFPD’s paramedic coordinator, and with the support of its medical director Dr. Gerardo Salcedo, Reitz sent Reyes a proposed termination letter on June 26, 2014, and then on July 21, 2014, following the board’s review of the proposed termination. The action was considered final.

Reyes did appeal and, following a series of hearings last spring and fall, Administrative Law Judge Eric Sawyer recommended that Reyes’ termination be ended and he should be returned to his former position. The IFPD commission rejected this review in March and began its own second review of the case. (Sawyer works for the California Office of Administrative Hearings, which provides hearings, mediations and alternative dispute resolution services to state and local governmental entities.)

Last Friday, the commission issued a decision concurring and supporting Reitz’s decision to dismiss Reyes.

Although the IFPD document refers to the transcripts of the ALJ hearings, the quotes are almost all attributed to McCurdy and Salcedo.

In summary, the commission ruled “the termination should be upheld. Persuasive and uncontested expert testimony establishes that the district policies and the standard of care in the field required action, and that [Reyes’] failure to act constituted a significant departure from district policy and the accepted standards of care.”

Essentially, the chief and the commission believe Reyes’ action upon arriving at the scene was an egregious misconduct because he “failed to act or deliver any medical attention to a critically ill patient.” As a result, Reyes’ actions “brought reproach and discredit to the district,” according to the commission’s document.

Ultimately, the commission asserted Reyes’ behavior may “have resulted … in harm to the public service.” Thus, it justified the termination action on the basis of harm to the public because Reyes “failed to provide the standard of care expected in the industry and as required by [the county Emergency Services Agency].”

The infant’s parents called 911 that afternoon. The Station 23 unit arrived first and began care, trying to revive the baby. The IFPD unit, Capt. Reyes and firefighter Adam Rodriguez, arrived later. A helicopter had been requested and IFPD would transport the infant to the Keenwild Heliport. Reyes, as captain of the transporting unit, would normally assume control of the incident. However, Reyes continued to let the county paramedic, Jon Strouse, administer care. And this is the crux of whether Reyes conformed to policy or was derelict.

“The assessment of whether the transfer of care was appropriate is at central issue in this case,” the commission wrote in justifying the termination decision. Supporting this belief was McCurdy’s conclusion, “PM Strouse had obviously done a poor job on this call; so [Reyes’] deference to him was in error.”

However, the ALJ report addressed this issue. Not only did Sawyer provide the salient testimony from both sides, but throughout his 33-page decision, he explained why he accepted, rejected or placed little weight on specific statements.

After receiving testimony during ALJ hearings, Sawyer could find no factual evidence to support the chief’s opinion that Reyes should have taken control of the incident. Further, witnesses from Riverside County Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Services Agency disputed and contradicted IFPD’s interpretation of their policies.

Ultimately, Sawyer found “[t]he consensus of all expert witnesses in this case, including Mr. McCurdy, is that no harm or injury to the patient in question can be attributed to either PM Strouse or [Reyes].”

Nevertheless, Salcedo felt Reyes caused harm by not interceding, recommended his paramedic license be revoked and has refused to allow Reyes to administer drugs under his drug enforcement license. Consequently, IFPD also concludes that “[Reyes] is now incapable of performing his duties … as a result of [his] failure to act during the call.”

Neither McCurdy nor Salcedo bothered to request the records from Cal Fire. When Reitz testified that he had requested them, the EMSA Bureau Chief Phillip Rawlings, for RCFD, “persuasively testified IFPD never contacted Cal Fire for its information on this call,” Sawyer wrote.

Dr. Daved van Stralen, medical director for the county’s EMSA, testified that IFPD was misinterpreting county rules. Further in his opinion, Reyes did nothing wrong during the incident. Even Reyes’ poor performance evaluation in 2013 contradicted the termination action, according to Sawyer, because Reitz gave him an above-standard appraisal for “patient care.”

The only fact that the commission and Sawyer agree with is that Reitz and Reyes had a “poor relationship.”

Regarding Salcedo’s threat to cease providing medical drugs to IFPD when Reyes is there, Sawyer wrote, “ … refusing to reinstate [Reyes], where it was proven he did nothing wrong, simply because a paid consultant refuses to work with him, would be arbitrary and capricious …”

“As a factual matter, it was not established [Reyes] failed to act or perform his duties on the call in question,” Sawyer concluded and stressed that neither the county nor the state paramedic licensing agency took or are in the process of taking any action against Reyes’ paramedic license. None of the other personnel on the scene, including IFPD firefighter Adam Rodriguez, have been disciplined.

The next step is whether Reyes appeals the IFPD commission’s decision.

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