By the time George Floyd was en route to the hospital Monday evening, he was unresponsive and without a pulse. But for nearly an hour, first responders and ER staff refused to give up on the 46-year-old St. Louis Park man in their care.
"He still had an outside chance," said Hennepin Healthcare EMS Chief Marty Scheerer. "Even if it's a super long shot, you've got to try your best."
But 90 minutes after his initial encounter with Minneapolis police, Floyd was pronounced dead at HCMC.
"We feel the loss as well," said Scheerer, who believes paramedics did everything right after getting the medical distress call that evening.
A 10-minute video broadcast live on Facebook captured the moments that led up to Floyd's death. Officer Derek Chauvin is seen kneeling on Floyd's neck while he lies face down, handcuffed, and pleading that he can't breathe. Minutes later, Floyd goes limp and appears to lose consciousness. Hennepin EMS then arrive six minutes after the distress call.
Civilian footage shows a medical worker touching Floyd's head as Chauvin remains on top of him. Paramedics and officers eventually flip Floyd over, load him on a gurney and into the ambulance while he was still handcuffed. Once inside, a responder freed his hands.
The decision to "load and go," rather than triage at the scene, was likely based on their race against the clock, Scheerer said. Unloading all the equipment can often take much longer than treating a patient from inside the ambulance.
When pressed about a potential duty to intervene if a patient is endangered on a call, Scheerer surmised that, in this case, responders were unaware of how severe the situation had become.
"I don't think the paramedics knew what was going on. They just saw a split second of what was happening," he said in reference to Chauvin's prolonged knee restraint on Floyd's neck. "Ultimately, if the police have somebody in custody, we have to get permission from them to work with on the patient."
Fire Engine 17 arrived without lights and sirens just after the ambulance pulled away. The initial call started as a Code 2 to assist EMS on a scene, not the more urgent Code 3, indicating a life-threatening situation. Preliminary information given to firefighters said only that Floyd had "trauma to his mouth," according to an incident report.
Upon arrival, firefighters attempting to locate their patient were told by those gathered that police "had killed the man," the report says. "Bystanders were upset but not unruly."
The crew found an off-duty firefighter who reported witnessing the end of the struggle and watched as Floyd turned unresponsive in police custody. Dispatch notified firefighters that medics who just left the scene needed assistance, so they moved a few blocks away to meet up with the ambulance.
Two firefighters entered the rig as a medic was performing chest compressions on Floyd. They assisted getting IV and medications prepared as the paramedic continued to search for a pulse, the report said.
"When someone is not breathing, every second counts," said Mark Lakosky, president of Minneapolis Fire Local 82. His personnel are trained that someone can suffer brain damage in as little as four minutes without oxygen.
While en route to HCMC, EMS workers radioed ahead that they had picked up Floyd and were incoming.
"I've got a red medical, we'll be there in approximately six minutes," a medic relayed, according to emergency dispatch audio. "Thirties, male, was being detained by PD … was on a … was a cardiac arrest upon EMS arrival, apparently doing CPR, getting access, getting vitals, bagging, calling ACLS [advanced cardiovascular life support], we'll be there in six minutes, red medical, COVID symptoms are unknown."
Floyd's condition never changed, even after an electric shock to the chest. The incident report stops once he was handed off to emergency room staff. Doctors continued additional lifesaving measures, but Scheerer declined to specify what kind, citing medical privacy rules.
Floyd's official time of death was recorded at 9:25 p.m.
A Hennepin County medical examiner report was inconclusive about Floyd's exact cause and manner of death, "pending further testing and investigation."
The two paramedics who worked to save his life went straight back to duty, tapped the very next day to respond to unrest in south Minneapolis prompted by Floyd's death.
"They do feel a lot of sorrow because of this," said Scheerer, who briefly met with them after the dust settled. "Our hearts go out to Floyd's family and friends."
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648