Distress Signals Were Not Heeded in MD Recruit's Death

Andrew Waybright was not the only member of his firefighter recruit class affected by the heat during an intense physical training exercise in July, and the paramedic who led the run failed to recognize anyone was in trouble, according to a report by state investigators.

Mr. Waybright, 23, of Gettysburg, Pa., collapsed and died July 3 near the conclusion of an exercise session on the third day of recruit training.

Paramedic Jeff Coombe yelled at Mr. Waybright to "pick up his feet" and to address Mr. Coombe in a proper manner during calisthenics in the park, fellow recruits told investigators from Maryland Occupation, Safety and Health (MOSH).

Mr. Coombe, who is not a physical fitness trainer, was chosen by former Public Safety Director Stan Poole to lead the recruit exercise classes because he holds a degree in biology, according to the MOSH report.

MOSH recently cited Frederick County with two "serious" violations for forcing the recruits to exercise during that July day.

The recruits told MOSH investigators they believed the July 3 session was a "gut check" to see who really wanted to be a firefighter.

Although all had passed the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), the manuals for the test were taken away, according to the report. Recruits said they were not told or encouraged to continue the exercises.

Seven days after Mr. Waybright's death, and the day before the MOSH interviews were to begin, each recruit was given a CPAT manual, according to the investigators' report.

Requiring the recruits to dress in dark blue shirts and shorts circumvented the academy's own health and fitness presentation, which states, "wear light-colored clothing to reflect light," according to the report.

Fellow recruit Andre Bailey, a former drill instructor and paratrooper in the U.S. Army, said he thought the exercise on the second day of training was "too harsh for people who were not conditioned and acclimated to the environment."

He said he was never permitted to require new Army recruits to run three miles or more until at least the fifth week of conditioning, according to the investigators' report.

The MOSH report said, "The employees were required to run and exercise beyond what they were used to, resulting in heat exhaustion and death."

Mr. Coombe said he didn't see any of the recruits having heat-related problems, but MOSH investigators said one man described himself as "out of breath and (feeling) dizzy," while another said he was having "dry heaves" and became dizzy.

One recruit was so disoriented after the calisthenics, he said he thought they ran through the park twice, and another said he was about to pass out, the report said.

"Instructor Coombe did not recognize the effects from heat illnesses mentioned in his own health and fitness program," the MOSH official wrote.

As the run was winding down, six to seven recruits, including Mr. Waybright, were lagging behind the formation after showing signs of heat exhaustion.

The state investigators further wrote, "The victim (Mr. Waybright) was helped off onto the grass on the shoulder of the road by the two instructors. He wanted to continue and was helped to his feet, but collapsed again.''

A short time later, he lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. His skin was cold and clammy, a symptom of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Mr. Waybright's temperature was 107.6 degrees when he reached Frederick Memorial Hospital. The State Medical Examiner's report listed the cause of death as hyperthermia.

The MOSH investigators concluded: "The instructors failed to recognize the obvious signs of distress shown by the employees, which led to the collapse and death of Mr. Waybright."

Water was withheld from the recruits, who were not given a break during the exercise that included a half-mile walk, 3.7-mile run, 15 to 20 minutes of calisthenics and two sets of uphill wind sprints, each covering about 300 feet.

The National Weather Service had issued a "code red" warning, implying all outdoor activity should be limited. Fort Detrick had cancelled its formation that morning due to the heat.