March 3 is the day that changed the life of Ellen Jean Mix forever.
Ellen had called 9-1-1 three times that morning, desperately trying to get EMS for her husband, Tim, who was having breathing problems at their Parc Rue home in Northwood. By the time help arrived 28 minutes later, Tim had stopped breathing. He was removed from life support two days later in the hospital as a result of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
Two-and-a-half months later, Ellen is still trying to figure out why it took so long for Northwood's volunteer fire department to respond to her husband.
March 2 was like any other night for Ellen and Tim, she recalled. Tim, 67, was in his chair downstairs, where he had often fallen asleep.
“The night before was normal. He would camp out in the family room sometimes because he liked to watch TV into the night,” Ellen said of Tim. He also thought he had a bad cold and wanted to stay downstairs that evening.”
“Around 6 a.m., I heard the TV getting louder and louder,” Ellen said. “I came downstairs and he was in his chair. I asked him if he took cold medicine and he said,`Yes’. He told me to go back to sleep.”
Ellen was unable to fall back to sleep, she said, and she kept checking on her husband. Then she noticed his breathing did not sound right, but he was able to respond to her questions.
After calling family members to the home, a decision was made to call 9-1-1. Tim was becoming less and less responsive.
Ellen made the first 9-1-1 call at 6:49 a.m., according to a copy of the 9-1-1 calls obtained by The Press.
“My husband, I don’t know if he is overmedicated but I can’t get him to respond. I can’t get him to actually wake up, he is breathing,” Ellen told dispatchers. Minutes went by without help arriving.
“Every day we hear ambulances going down the street,” said Ellen. “Every day, there is some siren. That morning, it was just dead silence.”
Ellen called a second time, at 6:58.54 a.m., and asked the dispatcher if she had made the call to the fire department. The dispatcher replied, “Yes I did. Yes I did. They are all volunteers,” according to the 9-1-1 audio log.
Mix made her third and final plea to 9-1-1 at 7:11.09 a.m.
“Hi, this is Ellen Mix again. My husband just stopped breathing. What’s the hold-up? Why can’t they be here? It’s been 20 minutes?” By then, Ellen was frantic.
“All I was thinking at the time was ‘Where the hell are they?’” said Mix. “It was like we do not have EMS here in the city, to be honest.”
An investigation by The Press has since shown there were several issues in the Northwood fire department in the last few years that may have contributed to the slow response time to the Mix home on March 3. Those issues included: Budget cuts; the elimination of two firefighter/EMTs who manned Station No. 1 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; a hiring freeze, which reduced manpower; a “two tone out” system from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. in which dispatchers waited seven minutes to call Fire Station No. 1 at 2100 Tracy Rd., which covers the west side, after getting no response from Fire Station No. 2 at 6000 Wales Road, which covers the east side and is closest to the Mix home.
In addition, there were time gaps in coverage by the city’s Medic 800 ALS vehicle, which was unmanned when Mix made the first 9-1-1 call.
Medic 804, responding from Northwood’s Fire Station No. 1, arrived at the house at 7:17.29 a.m. Medic 50, an Advanced Life Support squad out of Lake Township, which has a mutual aid agreement with Northwood, arrived at 7:18.08 a.m. after being dispatched at 7:13 a.m.
Emergency personnel on the scene were able to revive her husband, who was then transported to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Ellen said.
“I wanted him to go to St. Charles, but once his heart had stopped, he had to go to St. V’s,” Mix explained. “I would have taken him to a veterinarian if I knew they could help him.”
Tim was on life support until Saturday, March 5, Ellen said.
“I was told by doctors that Tim had pneumonia and then went into cardiac arrest at our home,” she said. “Once he stopped breathing he went into renal failure. After an EEG (Electroencephalogram) was performed, I was told Tim was brain dead due to the lack of oxygen after he stopped breathing.”
Tim, who retired in 2008 from Columbia Gas of Ohio after 42 years of service, was taken off life support at 4:30 p.m., said Ellen. He passed away at 7:43 p.m.
“We have loved this city and have paid our taxes,” said Ellen, who had lived in her Parc Rue home with Tim since 1978. “I cannot believe that so many mistakes were made. Who waits seven minutes to respond when someone is having trouble breathing? I feel let down by the city. Those were the longest 28 minutes of my life.”
Ellen recently met with Northwood Mayor Mark Stoner and City Administrator Dennis Recker to discuss her concerns about what happened that day.
The city is in the process of making several changes in the fire department in the wake of the Mix incident.
Council recently introduced a measure to cut the full-time fire chief position to part-time. Savings from cutting the $66,000 salaried position to part-time will go toward paying for a two-man EMS crew on staff from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Council has had a first reading on the measure.
The city has also changed the two tone out policy of Fire Station No. 1 and Fire Station No. 2. Both fire stations will now be toned out at the same time. If nobody responds from either station after seven minutes, dispatchers request mutual aid.
Council has also agreed to increase pager rates of the Medic 800 crew, has lifted the hiring freeze in the fire department to bring it up to strength, and will use $20,000 in Redflex automated photo speed and red light enforcement camera funds for the training and recruiting additional firefighters.
Other changes include the implementation of an “I am responding” cellular-based system, in which a firefighter who is toned out can press a preprogrammed button that sends a message to the dispatcher “I am responding.”
City employees will also be trained in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and the use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
Although she is happy changes have been made, Ellen said she told both Recker and Stoner she felt one of the dispatchers also needs to be disciplined for what she called her cold attitude.
“I feel if anyone dropped the ball it was the dispatcher,” Ellen said. “There should be discipline for her lackadaisical attitude. I hope she is never in the position I was in.”
Ellen, a head teller at the National Bank of Oak Harbor, had planned to retire in June. Instead, she retired on May 6.
“Since Tim is not here anymore, I will have to work around the house by myself,” she said.
For now, she is trying to cope without Tim. Sadie, her border collie/Labrador mix, is keeping her company.
“Sadie keeps looking for Tim,” Ellen said. “She is used to sleeping between us at night. She just seems lost since Tim died. Learning to live with it is not easy. The changes that were made in Northwood are very good, don’t get me wrong, but they will not bring my Tim back.”