By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A Cincinnati firefighter facing possible discipline for his decision to leave the scene of a fatal police struggle last week was supervising only because no lieutenants were available, officials said Saturday.
Leaders of the Cincinnati African-American Firefighters Association said that tapping a firefighter to fill a supervisory role is common because the department does not have enough supervisors to cover all shifts because of vacations and other off days. That means firefighters, like Gregory Adams, who have passed a supervisory test but have not been promoted, are asked to "ride in charge."
The group held a news conference Saturday, asking the public to withhold judgment against Adams until the investigation into his actions is finished, which could be in a couple of weeks, said District Chief Howard Reed, vice president of the black firefighters group.
The group, which represents 250 black firefighters in the 800-member department, was the only one speaking publicly about the incident last week. Another session was canceled. And a rally and march at City Hall organized for today by a group of Baptist ministers was also canceled. The black firefighters group on Saturday also denounced police union statements criticizing the firefighters' decision.
Fraternal Order of Police President Roger Webster on Friday blasted the four emergency medical technicians who left the scene during the struggle between six police officers and Nathaniel Jones in the parking lot of the North Avondale White Castle. Webster said many of the police department's 1,050 officers were angry that the medical crew "got back in their truck and drove away.
Firefighters were first called to the restaurant to help a woman. They called police, saying Jones was being a nuisance. Jones, 41, of Northside, lunged at officers and then scuffled with six officers. But before the scuffle ended, firefighters left and had to be called back by police when they realized Jones was not breathing. Jones died a short time later.
The Hamilton County coroner said the stress of the struggle caused his heart to stop and ruled the death a homicide.
Firefighters said they've never pointed fingers at the police in the wake of any other police investigations. "We're not going to do that," Reed said.
James Wright, president of the group, said the incident could mean a boost in the department's training department, which currently has four people in it, and maybe some new protocols.
Fire chief Robert Wright said Saturday he will discuss the possibility of training changes Monday.
"We should look at this as an opportunity... to make sure this incident does not happen again," said James Wright, the chief's cousin. "Maybe some cross-training would help between the two departments."
He continued: "We need to build a bridge. And it's not going to happen unless we stop pointing fingers."
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