New steps to protect people with mobility disabilities

Back of ambulance doors open and gurney
If wheelchair doesn’t fit

While traveling along a San Francisco sidewalk, Bryan Goodwin fell from his electric wheelchair, causing multiple injuries. Emergency responders arrived at the scene and transported him to the hospital.

Goodwin’s chair, however, was left behind. The Fire Department had called a taxi to pick up the chair, which was highly customized and is essential for Goodwin to work and live independently. The chair was never seen again.

Goodwin was confined to the hospital for days, while waiting for a suitable replacement.

In 2011, Disability Rights Advocates and Chavez & Gertler LLP wrote a letter to the San Francisco Fire Department, urging it to take steps to avoid situations similar to  Goodwin’s traumatic experience.

In an agreement announced July 25, the fire department agreed to take a variety of new precautionary procedures to protect the equipment of people with mobility disabilities.

“Our Police, Fire, and Emergency Management leaders collaborated with Mr. Goodwin and DRA to develop a thoughtful and practical policy,” said Carla Johnson, interim director of Mayor’s Office on Disability, in a news release. “I think their effort shows how the City understands that access to all aspects of emergency services is a civil right.”

In the event that a wheelchair or similar device can not be transported with a patient in an ambulance, the department is now required to contact the city Department of Emergency Management to transport the equipment, while another officer stands by to ensure it is not stolen.

The Department will also work to ensure that there are 24/7 transportation providers for the equipment and train its staff on the new policies.

“We hope that other cities and counties around the country review their emergency response systems and look to San Francisco’s plan as a model for addressing this critical access issue,” said Nance Becker of Chavez and Gertler in the news release.