This story was updated at 7:40 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2014.
A group of residents are opposing the appointment of Montgomery County’s fire chief because of an alleged racial incident involving Montgomery County Fire and Rescue EMS personnel at a Rockville restaurant in May.
The group plans to protest the appointment of acting fire chief Steve Lohr to the full-time position, and have promised political retribution for County Council members who vote to confirm Lohr.
The council is scheduled to interview Lohr at its meeting Tuesday and vote on the appointment at the Feb. 4 council meeting.
Rockville resident Rocky Twyman said he and several other men were at the McDonalds in the 1300 block of Rockville Pike in Rockville in June when they saw a homeless man they believed to be having a heart attack and called 911.
When EMS personnel arrived, Twyman claimed, they acted unprofessionally and expressed little concern for the man.
“There was no compassion, no sympathy or anything for this poor man who seemed to be suffering,” Twyman said.
All of the EMS crew who responded to the call were white and the homeless man was black. Twyman said he thinks race was a factor in how the crew handled the call.
County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the county thoroughly investigated the incident and determined there was no racism involved.
Neither Lohr nor Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Assistant Chief Scott Graham could be reached for comment Monday.
Val Russell of Gaithersburg, who was with the group at McDonalds and witnessed the incident, said the man was bent over, holding his chest and clearly in pain.
The EMS staff handled the situation very casually and displayed “no empathy whatsoever,” Russell said.
Twyman said he was told an investigation into the incident showed that the man called 911 several times in the past.
He said he and other onlookers were “amazed” by the medics’ behavior, and he believes that if a black EMS crew behaved similarly toward a white patient, the county’s reaction would have been different.
Twyman said he has nothing against Lohr personally, but think crews need more sensitivity training.
“That’s not the type of fire chief we want here in Montgomery County,” Twyman said.
He and several others met with County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) on Monday in hopes that he would withdraw Lohr’s nomination.
The county takes any allegations of this sort very seriously, Lacefield said.
He said Lohr has Leggett’s full confidence as his appointment process moves forward.
Council President Craig Rice, who, like Leggett, is black, said any allegation like this needs to be addresssed and investigated thoroughly.
Only people at the restaurant that day know exactly what happened and what was said, Rice said.
He said if the EMS personnel acted inappropriately, they should be held accountable.
But to frame the entire department as racist simply isn’t true, Rice said.
Twyman said he and others plan to protest outside the council building in Rockville on Tuesday and are putting the council on notice that they’ll organize political opposition against any members who vote for Lohr.
If Lohr is approved, “I think all hell is going to break loose in this county,” Twyman said.