Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dziekanski: Polish-speaking airport worker not asked to help, fired a month later; Airport firefighters not called to respond

The revelations surrounding the harrowing night of Oct. 14 when Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after being Tasered at least twice by RCMP at Vancouver International Airport keep piling up.

The National Post is reporting that a Polish-speaking airport worker was on duty the night of Dziekanski’s death but was not asked to help.

The article Polish-speaking airport worker wasn’t asked to help (National Post, Nov. 19, 2007) alleges that “Slovakian immigrant Karol Vrba was in the room on Oct. 14 when the pair of calls came in reporting Mr. Dziekanski’s erratic behaviour, but was never asked to help, even though he is conversant in both Polish and Russian, the language bystanders told authorities the 40-year-old Pole was speaking.”

“I feel really upset because I saw that video of what they did to him and it could have been prevented. Definitely,” he said Monday.

“Mr. Vrba spoke to the National Post because, almost exactly a month after Mr. Dziekanski died, he was fired. He believes it may be because he spoke out about the fact that he could have helped. The airport told him he was “unsuitable for the job,” an employment mark he says will make it nearly impossible for him to find work as a firefighter, a profession he had been training for as part of his airport duties,” the story states.

Michele Mawhinny, vice-president of human resources for the Vancouver Airport Authority, said that due to privacy laws she could not comment on Mr. Vrba’s allegations.

The article also notes:

On the night Mr. Dziekanski died, Mr. Vrba stepped into the airport operations centre to pick up some papers he needed for his duties as an airfield operations specialist. At that moment, he was heading out to note the tail numbers of the planes parked at airport gates for the night. He was there when the calls came in advising of a disturbance in the international arrivals area, but left soon after.

The widely circulated video of Mr. Dziekanski’s death contains at least nine references to “Russian,” including two after the RCMP arrived, when one voice can be heard saying as the officers passed by, “he speaks Russian and that's it. No English.”

Less than a minute later, Mr. Dziekanski, who had thrown a folding chair and a computer before police were called, was hit with a Taser and fell to the ground. He later died.

But Mr. Vrba, who immigrated in 1999 and had worked at the airport since July, was not asked to help, and he said a call did not go out for anyone else who spoke Russian or Polish to help, either. Busy with his work, he did not return to the operations centre until after Mr. Dziekanski had died.

“When I came back I say, ‘what happened? They said there was some Polish guy or Russian guy. I speak Russian, so I say, ‘OK, why didn’t you call me if I could help?’” Mr. Vrba said. He speaks with an obvious East European accent.
Paul Levy, the vice-president of operations with the Vancouver Airport Authority also declined to comment on Mr. Vrba’s allegations, citing privacy laws.

In Airport firefighters not called during Taser incident (National Post, Nov. 20, 2007) it is reported that firefighters at Vancouver’s airport firehall “are angry that they were not called to respond the night Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died, even though they say emergency response protocol dictates they should have been there.”

The article points out that “protocol stipulates the airport firehall should be called in for “Code 3” emergencies. A Code 3 is a lights-and-siren response to a life-threatening situation.”

It goes on to say:
A “routine call” for an ambulance response was placed about the time Mr. Dziekanski was struck with the RCMP Taser, but airport firefighters, who are certified in first aid, do not typically respond to routine medical calls.

But four minutes later, that call was “upgraded” to a Code 3. According to the airport worker, who is close to the firehall, either the airport response co-ordinator -- a man who was at the scene and can be seen on the videotape -- or the province’s emergency communications centre should have immediately dispatched the airport firehall. The firehall’s response time is two minutes.

Neither of them did. Instead, airport vice-president of operations Paul Levy said the decision was made to wait for an ambulance from nearby Richmond, which was already en route. It took 11 minutes to arrive from the initial call and seven minutes from when the call was upgraded to Code 3.

Mr. Levy said it is standard protocol for the airport firehall to respond to Code 3 calls, but would not clarify whether that protocol applies under an “upgraded” scenario.
It is unclear “whether an earlier medical intervention would have saved Mr. Dziekanski’s life.”

The same story reported that during the 1990’s the airport’s operations centre included a list of every airport worker and what foreign language they spoke.

As a follow-up to the earlier story concerning the airport’s former Polish-speaking worker the article states:
The National Post reported yesterday that Karol Vrba, a probationary airfield operations specialist who is conversant in Polish, was in the operations centre when calls came in reporting Mr. Dziekanski’s destructive behaviour. He was not asked to help and has since been fired.

Mr. Levy confirmed that the airport continues to maintain such a list, which is updated at the beginning of each shift and contains information about which customer relations workers are available “and we would know what languages they would speak.”

He did not specify whether Mr. Vrba -- whose job was not as a frontline worker -- would have been on that list, but did say that “there has not been any airport authority staff’s employment impacted by this incident.”

Mr. Vrba has filed a union grievance over his firing, which he suspects is related to statements he made saying he should have been called to help communicate with Mr. Dziekanski, who did not speak English.

His firing has raised questions for Walter Kosteckyj, a Polish-Canadian lawyer who is acting on behalf of Mr. Dziekanski’s mother.

“If the facts as [Mr. Vrba] is presenting them are true, then it shows bad faith on the part of the airport and just seems to be indicative of a larger problem,” he said. “It almost looks like he’s an embarrassing piece to have around, so let’s get rid of him.”

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