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First Responders – It’s Not Just Police, Fire and Medical But Others Too

On 12/6/2021, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals filed an unreported decision on an issue not important to this post. Reading through the facts, I was struck by the gruesome detail of what a first responder went through in his 10 years on the job. It’s not just police, fire and medical personnel but others too. Here is an excerpt.

Mr. Harris was employed by the State Highway Administration (“SHA”) from October 25, 2005, to April 17, 2015. Mr. Harris was initially an Emergency Response Technician (“ERT”) on the Coordinated Highway Action Response Team. As an ERT, Mr. Harris’s job duties required him to respond to all types of incidents that might disrupt traffic, including motor vehicle, motorcycle, and pedestrian accidents; disabled vehicles; chemical spills; and highway obstructions, such as debris and fallen trees. Nothing limited the number or types of incidents to which Mr. Harris had to respond on any given day.

In 2012, Mr. Harris was promoted to the position of Highway Field Operations Technician IV (“HOT IV”). As a HOT IV, Mr. Franklin supervised ERTs. Although supervisory, the job required Mr. Harris to continue performing all duties of an ERT. The job also required Mr. Harris to be on-call for 24 hours a day under all weather conditions.

The HOT IV job description stated that Mr. Harris could be the first person on the scene of serious and fatal accidents and could be exposed to blood-borne pathogens on a daily basis. The job description also stated that Mr. Harris might develop post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). In late 2009 Mr. Harris sustained a work-related injury. After he had responded to an accident scene, Mr. Harris and a woman at the scene were struck by a car while they were standing on the side of the road. The woman died, and Mr. Harris sustained physical injuries and was diagnosed with PTSD. He received medication and counseling.

Mr. Harris eventually returned to work and, as required, continued responding to calls concerning serious motor vehicle accidents. He responded to calls that required him to put a dead motorcyclist (who looked like his son) into a body bag, to remove a dead body from a car, to walk over the remains of a person who had been ejected from a car, and to comply with an order to shovel freezing brain matter into the woods.

In June 2013, Mr. Harris responded to a call that required him to perform CPR on a 34-day-old baby while the mother, who later died, was trapped in a car. In responding to the same call, he was required to keep the woman’s nine-year-old child away from the car where her mother was dying.

In October 2014, in responding to a call about a disabled vehicle, Mr. Harris came upon a knife-wielding occupant who was threatening suicide. Mr. Harris disarmed the man and may have saved his life….

On the evening of April 16, 2015, Mr. Harris learned that one of his subordinates had been seriously injured while responding to a fatal accident. After a sleepless night, he met with his employees to discuss safety. During the meeting, he suffered a panic attack.

Mr. Harris drove himself to an urgent care center for help. In the medical record of that visit, a physician assistant noted that “[Mr. Harris] complains about recurrence of acute stress from recent events at work.” He “[h]as experienced multiple deaths and serious highway accidents and is having trouble coping with it.”

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