The Pittsburgh paramedic who was fired for refusing to walk through the snow to a patient’s home during a 2010 blizzard, has been reinstated by an arbitrator. Josie Dimon was in charge of Medic 8 on February 7, 2010, when it was dispatched to the home of Curtis Mitchell. Mitchell died in his home after calling 911 numerous times over a 30 hour period. None of the attempts to reach him succeeded.
Medic 8 was able to get within several blocks of Mitchell ‘s home, but Dimon refused to walk the rest of the way through the snow and instead demanded that Mitchell walk to the medic unit. Dimon’s colorful language over the radio and on a recorded phone line with dispatchers caught the attention of the media, portraying her and Pittsburgh EMS in a callous, unflattering light.
“If he wants a ride to the hospital, he’s going to have to come down to the truck”
“Is he on his way, because we are not going to wait here all day for him”
“He ain’t (expletive) comin’ down and I ain’t waiting all day for him. I mean what the (expletive), this is ain’t no cab service”
However, like most stories that cause a media sensation, there appears to be more to this story than the 20 second sound bite that the media offers. Dimon claims that she was dispatched on a low priority run, never informed about the severity of Mitchell’s condition, followed a procedure that (seemingly) no one else who followed it during the storm was disciplined for, and was used as a convenient scapegoat for system-wide failures because her story made headline news. One cannot deny that her involvement in the incident was the lightening rod for public criticism of Pittsburgh’s response to the storm.
Regardless of what your gut reaction to the story is – take the time to read the arbitrator’s decision. Here it is: Download Dimon Grievance Award
Maybe you won’t agree with the arbitrator, maybe you will. To me there is a much bigger issue that fire and EMS leaders need to address: when can emergency services stop responding because conditions are too bad – and perhaps more importantly – who should make that decision? Leaving the decision to a company level officer, or perhaps leaving some ambiguity over whether a company officer has the right to make that decision, seems to be noticeably missing from the discussion of the Pittsburgh incident.
Fire departments that are in hurricane prone areas often have formal policies to discontinue emergency response once winds reach a certain threshold, until conditions improve. Should there be a similar policy-based line for blizzards? FDNY EMS faced a wave of criticism this past December following a paralyzing blizzard and the media was relentless. I recall during the blizzard of 1978 we were physically unable to get our apparatus out of the station for nearly 24 hours, let alone to an emergency scene. Even if we could have gotten off the ramp – the roads were totally gridlocked with stopped, abandoned vehicles, including snowplows.
Might similar issues come up during floods, or tornados? Maybe there are other situations? If a fire department decides not to adopt a formal department-wide policy to limit weather related responses – then should each officer on a rig have the authority to discontinue the response to an incident because conditions are too difficult or dangerous? Is that authority implied? Lots of questions are raised.
Or should we ignore the issue, focus blame and scorn on Josie Dimon, and hope what happened in Pittsburgh won’t happen again. Pittsburgh’s Public Safety Director Michael Huss has vowed to appeal the decision.