Records: fire chief care case has disputed facts
January 11, 2024
County records show at least two facts used during the punishment of a Seeley Lake Rural Fire District Chief do not match Seeley Lake records from the 2022 incident, according to an independent review by the Pathfinder.
Dave Lane, the Seeley Lake Rural Fire District Chief, was previously ordered to four hours of continuing education by a state board for his role in a March 2022 incident. The emergency ended with the department calling Life Flight to extract a patient after complications during care arose.
While it takes a normal vehicle an hour to reach Missoula, a delay with giving the patient proper care by Lane led to other first responders not making the drive and waiting on a Life Flight helicopter. The incident lasted almost two hours.
The case against Lane eventually made it to the Board of Medical Examiners. The board agreed in October that Lane violated professional medical standards by handing off the patient to a first responder with a lower level of expertise.
Previously unreported county records show at one point Lane called himself off of the emergency response. The report used by the Board of Medical Examiners also underestimated the time it took for Life Flight to arrive on scene.
Seeley Lake resident Debra Kittrell, 63, the patient in the case, spoke on the record with the Pathfinder in her first published interview. She alleged much of what Lane wrote in his report was falsified, and it started from the first moment emergency responders arrived on scene.
The Pathfinder called the fire station on Jan. 3, 4 and 5. The Pathfinder also called Lane's cell phone and left two voicemails on Jan. 4 and 5, but did not receive a response from Lane by press time.
The Pathfinder reviewed both Lane's report, the official call log and audio from Missoula County and the charging documents published by the Board of Medical Examiners. All documents are available at seeleylake.com or in print in the Pathfinder office.
"Bitter and Vulgar"
Everyone can agree on when the call started: 9:09 a.m., March 4, 2022. Billy Kittrell, Debra's husband, called into Missoula County's dispatch center. From there, Dave Lane, and volunteers Rita Rossi and John Baker responded to the high-level emergency call.
Debra sprawled across her bathroom floor. She had been bleeding from her rectum for hours, likely spurred on by a doctor's colonoscopy appointment the day before. She wasn't sure when it had started, but it had been hours, and she said she was getting really concerned.
Missoula County call logs show Lane arrived on scene first at 9:17 a.m. There, he said in his report that he assessed the patient's pulse, skin signs and mental status, but he did not assess her blood pressure or give Debra an IV, according to the Board of Medical Examiners.
Despite that, the Seeley Lake Rural Fire District's report said someone took Debra's vital signs at 9:23 a.m., but there was not a crew member initially listed as the vital-signs taker on the incident log obtained by the Pathfinder. Lane is the author of the report.
Here, Lane said in his report that Debra's demeanor was "bitter" and "vulgar," which he described as consistent with his past interaction(s) with her. Because of the hostility, Lane said in his report that he transferred care to Rossi, who was driving separately in the ambulance.
Lane is a licensed paramedic, while Rossi is an emergency medical technician (EMT). A paramedic provides a higher level of care than an EMT, including the ability to administer an IV, which the board used as one of its main reasons for disciplining Lane.
Debra told the Pathfinder that she did not say a bitter or vulgar word to Lane, as she said she was in-and-out of consciousness. She alleged, as backed up by Billy, that Lane and Rossi didn't touch her until they moved her into the ambulance.
"The only thing that was vulgar there was my bloody, naked body on the floor," Debra said. "Hell, they asked me to stand up to get dressed before leaving, and I couldn't do that."
Missoula County records then show Lane, Rossi and Baker got Debra onto a backboard and lifted her to the ambulance at 9:40 a.m. - a little less than 20 minutes after the ambulance arrived on scene.
Although she didn't know it at the time, Debra still had one hour and five minutes to go before she made it out of Seeley Lake.
"Clear and Available"
When Rossi left with Debra to go to Missoula, the Board of Medical Examiners reported that Lane followed behind the ambulance in a separate vehicle.
But according to the Missoula County Dispatch Log, Rossi called Lane "clear and available," or off of the incident, 57 seconds after the ambulance left. Audio obtained by the Pathfinder verified the call.
His call sign, known as "710," would not appear on the dispatch for the rest of the incident. According to the Board of Medical Examiners, both Lane and Rossi stopped on the way to Missoula to apply an IV, which had not been given to Debra previously.
Billy witnessed the scene. He said after waiting for his grandson to meet him at home, he started driving towards Missoula to go to the hospital. But just minutes down the road, at a place he calls Poverty Flats, he saw the ambulance sitting in someone's driveway.
"I really wasn't sure what was going on, but the lights were off," Billy said.
Lane's car was on the scene, according to Billy. The Board of Medical Examiners reported that Lane returned to the ambulance to give an IV and oxygen at an unknown time, all while he was labeled clear and available.
The state said while Debra's vital signs improved, her demeanor did not, and Rossi called for a Life Flight.
Debra told the Pathfinder it was her begging to Lane and Rossi that got them to call Life Flight. She said her vital signs were terrible at that point, and Lane's report that her vitals were improving was a lie.
Twenty-minutes after the ambulance left for Missoula, dispatchers got a new call for a Life Flight at 10:02 a.m.
According to Board of Medical Examiners documents, Lane and the Seeley Lake medical team arrived at the Seeley Swan Medical Center and transferred care to Life Flight "on
But according to Missoula County Dispatch Records, The Seeley Lake ambulance sat at the Seeley Swan Medical Center for 39 minutes before Life Flight could land. The wait, according to Billy, felt like ages, but he underestimated the time to be closer to 15-20 minutes.
"It's hard to say when your wife is fighting for her life," he said.
Seeley Lake is roughly 52 miles from Missoula, a 56-minute drive with good weather. Despite the Kittrell's calling for help at 9:09 a.m, it took an hour and 40 minutes to get Debra out of Seeley Lake.
When Debra arrived at St. Patrick's Hospital, doctors found she was suffering from hypovolemia, a condition that happens when the body is short on fluids like water and blood. She had lost more than a pint of blood by the time Lane arrived at the start of the incident.
After weeks of recovery, Debra Kittrell started to feel better, but her opinion of Lane continued to sour. She said she had run into issues with him before with family members.
She said she wants a change at the fire district. She said she feels unsafe and made a written complaint to the Board of Medical Examiners. After a response letter from the board, Kittrell said she has not heard anything from the state on the incident, although she has not initiated contact either.
After the Pathfinder received the records and realized the discrepancy in facts of the case versus what considered and used to adjudicate the case, the Pathfinder contacted the Board of Medical Examiners, a part of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, for explanation and clarification.
Only one comment was returned by public information officer Jessica Nelson, saying "the Department does not comment on pending litigation" on Oct. 12. The Pathfinder also sent the state a copy of the county report.
Subsequent calls asking whether a new case had been brought forth, how the state verifies its case facts and why the state didn't get independent records from the county was returned once by former DLI Chief of Staff John Elizandro.
Elizandro told the Pathfinder the department would answer these questions in December, but did not respond after the message. As of Jan. 3, Elizandro does not appear to be working for DLI, according to its website.
Nelson also no longer works for the Board of Medical Examiners, she told the Pathfinder. No new public information officer had been hired by the Montana Department of Labor or Industry as of Jan. 4.
Here are the files of interest