A group of residents is 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 has promised political retribution for County Council members who vote to confirm acting fire chief Steven Lohr to become the permanent chief.
The council interviewed Lohr on Tuesday morning and is scheduled to vote on his appointment at the Feb. 4 council meeting.
Rockville resident Rocky Twyman said he and several other men were at the McDonald’s 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 Monday that the county thoroughly investigated the incident and determined there was no racism involved.
After his interview with the council Tuesday, Lohr said the department launches two types of investigations when it gets this type of complaint.
In one investigation, EMS staff looks into whether the call was handled properly from a medical perspective, he said.
In a separate investigation, the report of whether any of the staff behaved inappropriately during the call was turned over to the department’s internal affairs division, led by a retired state police major.
Both investigations found that the allegations weren’t substantiated, Lohr said.
Val Russell of Gaithersburg, who was with the group at McDonald’s 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 thinks crews need more sensitivity training.
“That’s not the type of fire chief we want here in Montgomery County,” he 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 (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, who, like Leggett, is black, said any allegation like this needs to be addressed 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 framing the entire department as racist is wrong, Rice said.
Council members reacted warmly to Lohr at Tuesday’s interview, with several saying they’ve enjoyed working with him as acting chief and they welcome his appointment.
Twyman said he and others 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.