News
3 min

Man dies in Toronto village awaiting paramedics

Partner frustrated by slow EMS response

HALF A BLOCK FROM HELP. Alejandro Martinez, with a picture of his partner Jim Hearst, says Hearst may not have died if paramedics had responded earlier to 911 calls. Credit: Karen Ho
Did you see what happened the night Jim Hearst died? Did you make a call to 911? Do you have more to add to this story?

***
A Toronto gay man whose partner died of an apparent heart attack believes the death could have been prevented if paramedics had reached him sooner.
 
Alejandro Martinez, 31, who lives in Toronto’s gay village, lost his partner of eight years, 50-year-old Jim Hearst, on Jun 25.
 
Hearst, a transportation broker, suffered an apparent heart attack at 40 Alexander St, the apartment building in which he lived, at approximately 11pm. He fell in a hallway, hitting his head, says Martinez.
 
Neighbours rushed to Hearst’s aid and called 911, says Martinez, who was away at the time visiting a friend in New York City. A building security guard from Intelligarde security also arrived. The guard called 911 again after Hearst, who was lying on the floor, began to turn blue, reports say. Ten minutes later, Hearst stopped moving and lost his pulse. The security guard called 911 again.
 
Martinez estimates that paramedics did not arrive until 11:45 pm, nearly 45 minutes after Hearst fell.
 
“The fact that emergency took so long really frustrates me,” says Martinez. “Jim had a chance to survive the heart attack.”
 
Martinez learned about his lover’s death the following day through an ex-boyfriend of Hearst’s who passed the news along to a friend who knew Martinez’s friend in New York.
 
“I was extremely sad. I was there with my friend. I was crying like crazy,” says Martinez. “[Jim] took me to the airport in the morning I left for New York. That was the last time I saw him.”
 
Martinez says he feels guilty for not being there for Hearst when he fell.
 
“I’m glad I talked to him on the phone a few hours before he died,” says Martinez. “He sounded completely fine. He was happy. I told him I loved him.”
 
Why did Toronto Emergency Medical Services take so long to respond? Martinez says a resident who performed CPR on Hearst told him that, police, ambulance and a fire truck took more than a half hour to arrive.
 
“And we live half a block from the fire station,” says Martinez.
 
At a Jul 14 press conference EMS chair Bruce Farr told reporters that paramedics arrived at Hearst’s building within nine minutes of the 911 call but didn’t enter because of health and safety issues. Paramedics sometimes wait for police if they believe they may be entering a dangerous situation. But Farr wouldn’t reveal precisely why paramedics held back in this case.
 
“We live in a very safe neighbourhood. What danger is a man having a heart attack inside a building?” says Martinez. “By the time paramedics decided to enter the building, [Jim] was dead.”
 
A Jul 15 Toronto Sun report suggests the initial 911 caller said only that a man was drunk and had stumbled hitting his head. There was no indication that the man was near death so EMS chose to wait for police to go with them. Farr told reporters that paramedics proceeded to Hearst’s aid as soon as they learned, from the security guard’s second 911 call, that Hearst wasn’t breathing.
 
Although Toronto city workers are off the job, city officials say ambulance response times for high-priority calls have not been affected by the walkout and that, under an essential services agreement, EMS is running at 75 percent normal staff.
 
But Martinez isn’t ruling out the possibility that the strike played a role in Jim’s death.
 
“I don’t know why a heart attack was not considered high priority,” says Martinez, who is still attempting to obtain the 911 call records. “It’s not like someone broke a hand.”
 
No one from EMS or Toronto City Hall had contacted Martinez with information or details about the incident, when Xtra spoke with him on Jul 15. “I’ve only received calls from the press,” he says.
 
Martinez wouldn’t comment on whether or not the ambulance’s allegedly slow response time was linked to homophobia. However, “some people leaving comments to stories posted online are raising some questions,” he says.