WASHINGTON (WJLA) - The family of Cecil Mills spoke out Thursday morning, demanding answers from the D.C. Fire Department. Mills, 77, died last month after having a heart attack in a parking lot across the street from Engine 26 on Rhode Island Avenue.
And his family says firefighters refused to help.
"We have people that just don't care,” said Sandra Mills, the widow of Cecil Mills. She stood with her family and attorneys and denounced the city for what happened to her high school sweetheart and husband of 55 years.
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Lawyers from the Jonnie Cochran firm brought the family to the location for a public news conference, where they reprimanded the D.C. government for hiding behind laws that protect it in most cases like this.
"And that's what we're advocating to be changed, because you've got to be accountable," said attorney Karen evans
Firefighters refused to leave the firehouse on January 25 despite repeated pleas from Mills’ daughter Marie and passersby. The Lieutenant in charge – now trying to retire – was seen hiding her face last week behind a file folder and was put on administrative leave along with another firefighter.
Meanwhile, the rookie who handled the initial plea for help has reportedly been reassigned.
Fire Chief Ellerbe has promised a thorough investigation of the incident, and while he knew Mills as a fellow shriner, family members say Fire EMS has proven that it cannot hold itself accountable:
"It is indisputable that the firefighters should have tried to help my dad. They should have tried to prevent his death," said his son, Medric Cecil Mills III.
Though city officials are promising reform once again, the family’s attorney says similar examples have been going on for decades.
"No more task forces -- there's been enough talking and writing abut D.C. EMS making recommendations, and then nothing has happened..." said Karen Evans.
She added that the city needs to get rid of a law that protects it from liability, pointing to the 2010 death of 35-year-old Andre Rudder outside Engine 7 firehouse. His own stepfather, Greenfair Moses, recalls the incident:
"He knocked on the door and he told them he was having chest pains and they told him they couldn't help him and they sent him back to his car."
Moses says his stepson died waiting for help.
And back in November, family members of Donald Jones said he was shot in the head near Engine 26. A cousin ran to the firehouse, and although an ambulance arrived, there wasn’t anybody authorized to drive it, so Jones laid there.
Finally, another ambulance came, but not quickly enough.
Later on Thursday night, family and friends converged just feet away from where Mills collapsed. His son Medric – a preacher – used the sidewalk as a pulpit.
"God, we thank you for the people that have gathered on this night to declare that change must come," said Reverend Medric Mills III. "Mayor Gray let this not go, let this not go unpunished."
At the vigil, Chief Ellerbe remarked: "We are committed to making sure that we get to the bottom of what happened, holding people accountable and transforming the way that we manage this agency."
Ellerbe has been talking for months about his agency’s critical need for improvement. If only it had happened sooner for this grieving crowd.
"We have to have it. We have to have it. Change must come," said Reverend Mills.