At 5:50 a.m. on Feb. 6, more than 3 1/2 hours after Curtis Mitchell and his girlfriend began calling 911 to summon help for his abdominal pain, an ambulance idled at Second Avenue and West Elizabeth Street in Hazelwood.
The ambulance was about four blocks from the couple’s home, but citing poor driving conditions in a major snowstorm, acting paramedic crew chief Josie Dimon wanted Mr. Mitchell to walk across the Elizabeth Street Bridge to them.
By 6:09 a.m., according to a city investigation and 911 recordings, Ms. Dimon had grown tired of waiting.
“He ain’t (expletive) comin’ down, and I ain’t waitin’ all day for him,” she told a colleague, crew chief Kim Long, at the dispatch center. “I mean, what the (expletive), this ain’t no cab service.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Tuesday announced discipline against Ms. Dimon, Ms. Long and two other EMS workers, saying they didn’t do enough to help Mr. Mitchell, 50, who died after he and his girlfriend, Sharon Edge, called 911 10 times in 30 hours.
By the time an ambulance arrived Feb. 7, Mr. Mitchell had died for reasons that remain undetermined.
Ms. Dimon, an 11-year veteran, faces a five-day unpaid suspension and possible termination. Facing three-day unpaid suspensions are Ms. Long, who has been with EMS 19 years, and district chiefs Norman Auvil and Ron Curry, who have been with the service 31 years and 34 years, respectively.
Ms. Long was stationed at the dispatch center, where she helps dispatchers process medical calls; Ms. Dimon, Mr. Auvil and Mr. Curry were in the field.
Ms. Dimon and Ms. Long are members of the paramedics union, while Mr. Auvil and Mr. Curry are nonunion. None of the four has a history of discipline problems, city officials said. In August, Mr. Auvil was named “Rescue Technician of the Year” by the Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council.
Ms. Long will receive a separate three-day suspension for another storm-related call in which a North Side mother of 2-year-old twins was told to walk to an ambulance to receive care for one of the children, city Public Safety Director Michael Huss said.
Union President Anthony Weinmann said he would challenge the discipline for Ms. Long and Ms. Dimon. The district chiefs may appeal their suspensions to Mr. Huss.
Mr. Huss said paramedics could have walked to Mr. Mitchell or summoned firefighters or 4-wheel-drive vehicles to reach his home during the snowstorm.
But it wasn’t only a lack of resourcefulness that troubled Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Huss; rather, they expressed outrage at the paramedics’ lack of compassion.
At one point, told about repeated calls from Mr. Mitchell’s home, Mr. Auvil said, “How about that? He can wait,” according to dispatch center tapes.
“That type of philosophy, that type of culture, does need to change,” Mr. Huss said.
Ms. Edge, briefed by Mr. Huss on the discipline, said she was sorry a medic might lose her job but believed “somebody has to answer for what happened.”
The couple’s first call for help came in to 911 at 2:09 a.m. Feb. 6.
By 3:38 a.m., an ambulance, Medic 5, got stuck in snow. It was sent away — at the request of Mr. Mitchell or Ms. Edge, the report said — when Mr. Mitchell couldn’t walk to the medics.
Another ambulance — Medic 8, with Ms. Dimon in charge — was dispatched at 5:33 a.m. and arrived at Second Avenue and West Elizabeth Street by 5:50 a.m.
After making the taxi service remark at 6:09 a.m., Ms. Dimon said minutes later, “Is he on his way? Because we are not going to wait all day for him.” At 6:15 a.m., the report said, Mr. Mitchell, unable to walk, canceled the call.
A third ambulance, Medic 7, was dispatched at 8:53 p.m. Feb. 6 and had arrived at West Elizabeth Street and Chaplain Way by 9:17 p.m. Medics got out of the ambulance and began looking for Mr. Mitchell’s home at 5161 Chaplain, but a dispatcher told medics that Mr. Mitchell was walking to meet them.
That wasn’t the case. At 9:28 p.m., Ms. Edge called 911 to say Mr. Mitchell was sleeping, and a dispatcher sent the ambulance away.
The report said Ms. Long had numerous phone conversations with Mr. Mitchell or his girlfriend; knew he was too ill to walk; and failed to impress that information upon colleagues and a district chief in the field. It said she also failed to get a 4-wheel drive vehicle to the scene.
The report said Mr. Auvil, a night-shift district chief, made inappropriate transmissions over the radio; failed to take steps to determine the seriousness of Mr. Mitchell’s condition; and failed to determine whether additional resources should be deployed to reach him.
According to the report, Ms. Dimon failed to call for a 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach Mr. Mitchell; failed to go after Mr. Mitchell on foot; made inappropriate radio transmissions; and failed to render the respect due a patient.
The report said Mr. Curry, the daylight-shift district chief, failed to determine the seriousness of Mr. Mitchell’s situation and decide whether additional action was warranted.
The city announced no discipline against dispatchers or the crews of Medics 5 and 7.
Announcement of the suspensions capped an emotional day at the City-County Building.
About 50 paramedics attended a Tuesday morning City Council meeting, calling themselves scapegoats for the city’s overall failure to handle the Feb. 5-6 storm.
Medics said they trudged through deep snow, worked around downed power lines and shoveled out stuck ambulances, all while answering an unusually high number of calls.
Union officials said the city’s decision to discipline medics flew in the face of a state report, which found gaps in EMS communication and logistics but no violation of laws or regulations governing patient care.
Mr. Weinmann, the union president, said medics on all three ambulances dispatched to Mr. Mitchell’s home Feb. 6 aborted their calls only after a dispatcher or district chief told them to do so.
“They were simply following orders,” Mr. Weinmann said.
But Mr. Huss didn’t want to hear it.
If medics had shown more effort, he said, the calls wouldn’t have been aborted in the first place.
He said other medics, plus police officers and firefighters, did a “marvelous job” during the storm. In emergencies, he said, public servants must “step up.”
Mr. Ravenstahl called the 911 tapes chilling.
“Oh, well,” an unidentified paramedic said at one point of Mr. Mitchell’s calls. “He’ll be fine.”