Family, alderman frustrated over EMS response to Milwaukee woman who died in the cold

Posted at 9:54 AM, Feb 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 10:54:25-05

Family and some city leaders expressed frustration about official statements made following the Milwaukee Fire Department's review of the 911 response after a woman died in the cold.

"Well, it was very discouraging. This is an incredibly tragic situation. What bothers me is how defensive people have gotten and how insensitive people have gotten," 11th District Alderman Mark Borkowski said on Wednesday.

On January 15, 49-year-old Jolene Waldref was walking to a bus stop in dangerously cold conditions when she fell. Authorities say Waldref called 911 from 76th and Congress. Curtis Ambulance Service's CEO Jim Baker says they arrived within 4 minutes but could not locate Waldref due to multiple factors.

Baker said the patient was not upright, not at the actual bus stop, and hidden by objects. The crew in the ambulance never got out of the vehicle to search.

"They were on scene for six or seven minutes. They attempted to call the patient back. They notified the dispatch center and they took another call," Baker said on Tuesday.

Video footage from a nearby building shows Waldref was a few feet away from one of the unsheltered bus stops.

"I took issue with some of the statements like we can't look at every snowbank. That's not what a family wants to hear. I think you make the effort to drive over to the intersection, what does it take to get out and look around," Borkowski stated.

Borkowski also chairs the Ambulance Service Board.

The video shows later that a bystander got out of their car to help Waldref. Over the phone, the bystander was adamant that Waldref was visible.

Alderman Lamont Westmoreland, who represents the area where Waldref died, said after meeting with Milwaukee's fire chief he is confident there will be updates to standard operating procedure for private ambulance companies to try and prevent something like this from happening again.

"I just think it was a tragic situation that should've never gotten to that stage," Borkowsk said.

Milwaukee Fire and Curtis Ambulance provided documents detailing guidelines on EMS calls.

We did not see any details on expectations in the event first responders cannot locate a patient.

Curtis Ambulance maintains that they followed protocol.

Outside of the circumstances surrounding Waldref's death, Borkowski says Curtis Ambulance has done a "great job for the City of Milwaukee" handling calls.

"I still have faith in our system as tragic as this is. We will and have to be better, but I do have faith. I don’t feel like this is a trend at all," Borkowski stated.

Waldref's 21-year-old daughter did not want to comment on camera but says the employees in the ambulance unit should have gotten out of the vehicle to look for her.

See Alderman Westmoreland's full statement below.

"I have had a chance to get information on the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Jolene Waldref last week near a bus stop in the 5th Aldermanic District at N. 76th and W. Congress.

First, I offer my sincere condolences to Ms. Waldref’s family, friends, and everyone impacted by her sudden death. This incident is extremely saddening.

I have reviewed and discussed the particulars of the incident with staff of the Milwaukee Fire Department, and about how the 9-1-1 call for help led to a private ambulance company being dispatched to the scene.

I can only imagine the pain of having a loved one in this type of situation who was lost after not being located by first responders, and it saddens me greatly to even think about it.

It is obvious that there is an opportunity to improve. I have met with MFD Fire Chief Aaron Lipski and I am 100% confident that there will be SOP (standard operating procedure) updates for private ambulance companies – changes that will strengthen protocols to reduce the chance of this type of incident reoccurring."