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Project Nashville: Brain damaged firefighter wants Metro to hire more employees

FOX 17 News

Every day is about the same for a local couple.

Connie Powell waits hand and foot on her husband David, a brain injured Nashville firefighter.

For 28 years, David answered the call... until December 2012.

“[I] Remember responding to a house fire and when we got there, we seen smoke visible and I went in the side door and that's about all I remember," David said. "They told me I kicked in the door and walked in and tripped on something going down the stairs."

His wife Connie adds, “When they found him at the foot of the steps, he'd already been gone for several... I don’t know minutes. He said I remember a bright light. I hope to think he was headed toward heaven.”

His attorney Rocky McElhaney explains, “Nobody knew he was there and injured and then he ran out of oxygen and basically suffocated to death and died at the bottom of those steps.”

Why didn't anybody know he was lying there?

Well, that's why FOX 17 News is highlighting David Powell's traumatic brain injury in Project Nashville. There's an OSHA regulation that says fire departments have to follow what's known as the "two in-two out" rule. It mandates that firefighters never go into a dangerous situation in a fire or rescue incident alone.

There were only three on Powell's fire truck that night, leaving him without a "buddy" for the OHSA rule. Metro didn't budget for enough firefighters then to follow the two in-two out rule and Metro still isn't following the rule today, despite the continuous population boom.

The Powells sued the city of Nashville over the two in-two out rule.

Attorney McElhaney adds, “It's always been a budgetary issue. Metro just does not put enough funds toward the fire department so they can apply the national standard.”

The city of Nashville didn't even fight the lawsuit. The case was that clear cut, but damages when you sue the government are capped at just $300,000.

David Powell spoke about his memory of the staffing levels in 2012. He said simply, “Always short. Always short.”

Connie had to quit her career to take care of him.

Now the Powells are urging Metro Council and Nashville Mayor David Briley to better fund the fire department.

“Give them more money so they can hire more firefighters,” David said.

In sickness and in health, they'll be married 40 years this year.

“I fell down them steps with him," Connie concluded. "That's exactly how I felt. I will take care of him until I die.”

The Nashville Fire Department confirms their trucks are staffed with three people. They said in some cases, more firefighters are assigned depending on staffing levels. They say they've requested additional funding during budget hearings, but have not gotten the extra money to hire more firefighters.

See previous Project Nashville investigations establishing staffing shortages and the problems it’s creating here and here.

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