August 1, 2011

The family of an Oregon firefighter says the city of Salem is responsible for his suicide. A number of factors contributed to the victim’s state of mind, but an internal investigation and a quit-or-be-fired ultimatum led to his wrongful death, according to the complaint.

The deceased started with the fire department in Oregon’s capital city in 1989. Over the next 11 years, he found himself deeply affected by his service. He began to experience psychiatric problems, and he sought treatment. Because his illness was work-related, he filed a successful workers’ compensation claim.

Medication and therapy made the difference. He continued his work with the department without incident. But in early 2009, his psychiatrist retired, and he started treatment with a new doctor.

During the transition, there was a mix-up with the victim’s medication. He was not receiving therapeutic doses, and, as a result, he began to act out. The complaint asserts that he was irritable, more anxious and more prone to impulsive actions and speech.

By July that year, the medication error was noticed, and the new doctor made the appropriate changes. Shortly after that, fire department supervisors began an investigation into a complaint against the victim. Other firefighters had alleged that he made inappropriate comments to them a few months earlier.

Psychiatric medication can take several weeks to start working. The first interview with the victim came so soon after the medication adjustment that he had likely not reached a therapeutic level yet.

The timing could not have been worse, really, and the results proved tragic.

We will continue this story in our next post.


Statesman Journal, “Firefighter’s family sues Salem over death,” Stacey Barchenger, 07/16/2011

Estate of Craig Warren et al. v. City of Salem, Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial, Marion County Court Case No. 11C18104, July 5, 2011


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