AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly a year after a cadet with the Austin Fire Department died after a medical emergency on the first day of the training academy, another cadet from his class is speaking out about what he believes is the need for a cultural change to ensure the health and safety of city firefighters.
Devon Coney died after a medical emergency at the academy on June 25, 2018. At 7:30 a.m., Coney, 34, suffered some sort of medical issue and was rushed to the hospital.
He died the next day.
Scott Ellison was a cadet in Coney’s class.
“Meeting Devon, there was so much confidence in his hand shake and voice. He made me feel proud to be part of this select group,” Ellison said. “Soon after our introduction, he collapsed in the drill tower during a workout. He was about two people in front of me, and he collapsed.”
A couple of months later, Ellison says things were put into perspective for him.
“One day in August, it was the first time I began to experience the physical challenge of the academy. I had the signs and symptoms they described in the rhabdo briefing, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to show any weakness, and it had been demonstrated that when you do report a problem — the response was just more ambiguity.”
A KXAN investigation revealed more AFD cadets are suffering from life-threatening rhabdomyolysis cases.
Shortly after that, Ellison resigned from the academy. The rest of their cadet class graduated in January.
Ellison says the culture needs to change.
“I don’t want to show weakness to other firefighters. Other firefighters don’t want to show their weaknesses. It’s a difficult culture to be real. It’s in some ways tragic because it’s a culture where you really need to be real. You really need to be able to be honest with people. I think that would achieve a much better outcome,” Ellison said.
In response to our requests for an interview, AFD sent KXAN this statement:
“AFD’s policies, procedures, processes, and documentation—especially those involving individuals in our Cadet Academy — were reviewed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), who spent three days looking into those after Cadet Coney’s death last June; they could find no areas where we were lacking or needed improvement. Cadet Coney’s absence continues to be felt throughout our department and we miss him terribly.”Fire Chief Joel G. Baker
Ellison plans to speak in front of city council members Thursday next week during their meeting.
“What could we tell cadets to do differently in the future? What could be different about the culture here,” he said.