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Hundreds celebrate D.C. man who died without help

Saturday - 2/8/2014, 8:43pm  ET

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Hundreds of people gathered Saturday to celebrate the life of the man who died without any help right across from a D.C. fire station. (WTOP/Max Smith)
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WASHINGTON - An empty ambulance helped block off 16th Street for parking on Saturday as family, friends and District leaders packed into a church to celebrate the life of Cecil Mills, the man who died outside a D.C. Fire station without getting any help from firefighters.

"I've known the Mills family for a very long time, they have a strong presence in Ward 5. He was just a great person to be around, always had a smile, always would just light up the area, and he was just a down-home good guy. Loved to play Bid Whist, loved spare ribs," D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange said outside the Canaan Baptist Church.

The church that the Mills family founded years ago was filled to the brim with song, tears and friends comforting one another.

Mills was a longtime D.C. government employee.

"Just unfortunate that the organization, the city let him down when he needed them. He had been here for everyone all the time and when he needed the city just to return and provide him a helping hand, it's unfortunate that the city was unable to do that," Orange says.

"There is an investigation underway, and we'll see what the investigation shows. Clearly, what we've heard so far sounds unacceptable," Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says.

"In terms of who was responsible, if anybody was negligent, one shouldn't prejudge that," he adds.

"Whoever is responsible for this tragedy needs to be held accountable," Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie says.

It is just the latest in a string of issues for the D.C. Fire Department, including problems with ambulance readiness and response times.

"This issue, in particular, is extremely upsetting, and it should have never happened, and I think the accountability needs to go as far up as necessary to make sure it doesn't happen again," McDuffie says.

"I think it's pretty simple, if you see somebody like that in distress, the folks who are responsible for providing aid should provide that aid, and it didn't happen in this case," McDuffie adds.

Asked whether the longer list of problems with the fire department is significant in this case, Orange responds "Absolutely it matters. It matters, and I think it's all going to be under review. And clearly, we're in an election season, so now is the time to really go in and examine and see what's going on. You have this instance, you have other incidents, and at the end of the day you've got to ask yourself whether we have the right leadership in place."

Orange is among the candidates for mayor running against Mayor Vince Gray in the April 1 primary. Gray was also at the service, and commended Mendelson outside for a job well done.

"At the end of the day, life is more precious than protocol," Orange says. "If you're the chief of the department you have to be responsible for everything ... the buck stops there, and ultimately it stops at the mayor's desk."

In addition to the actions of those at the firehouse who did not come out to help, the investigation is looking into why the ambulance that was sent ended up going to the wrong quadrant of the city.

"It's an issue of great concern. That would be the 911 call center ...That should never happen, it does happen, one would hope that these errors would be fixed," Mendelson says.

"I think the fact that Cecil Mills lived a very good life and everybody knows and loves him, he was a big figure, had a nice presence, a great smile. I think that really helps us all because he was just a genuine guy and we should not let his death be in vain. Something good should come out of this," Orange says.

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