Tucson firefighter refused call on January 8

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- When shots rang out at Safeway on January 8, hundreds of emergency responders rushed to the scene.

One former Tucson Fire Fighter refused and the fire department is speaking out to clarify what exactly happened.

Lots of calls came in on January 8.  One man didn't answer.

"You never know what your breaking point is, and everyone has a breaking point, and we found out what Mark Ekstrum's breaking point out is that day," said Tucson Fire Asst. Fire Chief Joe Gulotta.

Mark Ekstrum, 28 year veteran of the Tucson Fire Department, watched the tragic events unfold on television inside Fire Station 6.

"I don't think anyone could have predicted how Mr. Ekstrum would have responded to watching these events unfold on television," said Gulotta.

His response, to refuse to join his crew on the call.  To leave work and go home.

"Regardless of what your motivations are, when you're called on a call you go to that call. It was inexcusable for Mr. Ekstrum not to go out on that call in the eyes of his captain," said Gulotta.

Two days later, before he could be disciplined, Ekstrum chose to retire.

"It left a void of information that led people to make conclusions that it was politically motivated," said Ekstrum.

Ekstrum is a congresswoman Giffords supporter.  And TFD says he was too emotionally affected by the shooting to help.

"Ekstrum did not have a lack of willingness to go to that call.  He had a lack of ability to go to that call," said Gulotta.

In a statement mark Ekstrum clarified his position saying, "I did not know how... Or how deeply this shooting would impact me that morning... I regret how fully I failed to communicate my situation to my supervisor correctly at the time of the incident."

Nonetheless the department says Ekstrum was wrong.

"Across the fire service we all know that its not acceptable," said Gulotta.

And they hope the public realizes this was one isolated incident.

"Don't let this one incident with this one firefighter take away from the hard work and excitation that occurred on that day with people treating the patients," Gulotta.

The department was busy deciding how to discipline Ekstrum. His captain had recommended the most serious punishment, a 20 day suspension that could lead to termination.

But Ekstrum's decision to quit stopped that process.