Boise Ethics Commission Declines to Investigate Alleged Coverup in Canal Rescue, City HR Department Will Pursue Own Investigation

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The New York Canal - KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes
  • The New York Canal

The city of Boise Ethics Commission determined Thursday afternoon that it has no jurisdiction over the question of whether the Boise Fire Department covered up firefighter Brent Matthews' alleged inappropriate use of the Heimlich maneuver during a canal rescue.

"It interests me, but only as a spectator," said Commissioner David Proctor. "I don't see how the ordinance [that outlines the purview of the Ethics Commission] applies to this."

The commission voted unanimously not to pursue an ethics investigation into the Boise Fire Department's own inquiry into the death of Felix Martinez, a 50-year-old homeless man, who was pulled from the New York Canal June 23 by Boise Police Officer Joe Rivas and firefighter Matthews. At the time, Matthews strongly implied to KTVB that he'd used the Heimlich maneuver to revive Martinez, though Boise Fire Department officials later said that Matthews had misspoken about using the medical technique.

"It turns out that, sort of contrary to what KTVB reported, and it just may have been a simple misunderstanding, but it appears that the firefighter who pulled Mr. Martinez from the canal did, in fact, not use the Heimlich," said Boise Fire Department Communications Director Lynn Hightower.

The Heimlich maneuver is not part of Boise Fire Department training for reviving drowning victims and is specifically dis-advised by the American Heart Association. Martinez died within five days of the rescue. The Ada County coroner ruled the cause of death was drowning.

In the wake of the Boise Fire Department investigation into whether or not Matthews used the Heimlich maneuver, Peter Heimlich, who has investigated misapplications of the technique invented by his father, Dr. Henry Heimlich, filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission alleging that the Boise Fire Department acted in various ways to cover up Matthews' use of the maneuver. Heimlich also suggested to the commission that it should obtain unedited KTVB footage from the scene of the rescue, and interview Matthews and KTVB reporter Scott Evans to determine whether the Boise Fire Department had engaged in any wrongdoing.

Though the Ethics Commission declined to pursue an investigation, the city of Boise has decided to take up the case, and requested that the Boise Fire Department's medical director investigate the incident. The city's human resources office will also review materials relevant to the case to determine if it warrants further investigation.

"We always want to do our due diligence," said city of Boise Communications Director Adam Park.