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EMS takes fall for storm failure

CNN: NYC EMS chief replaced over storm response. 

 How many events does it take to start a trend?  One? Two?  More? Further, how do you know when that trend has been started? And when is it time to take an action against a “trend”?

I usually don't write a blog posting when I'm angry… with few exceptions.

This post will be one of those exceptions.

I just read an article posted on informing us that the New York City emergency medical services chief has been replaced as a result of the recent snowstorm response. This will be the second time  in under one year that EMS personnel have been terminated or demoted because of their actions during a major community crisis. Both cases were predicted, natural events...a snowstorm in the winter.

You might remember back in February of 2010 when Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was under a major snowstorm. (See EMS Under the Bus in Pittsburgh, Mitigation Journal, 2/28/10) It was reported that a woman called EMS repeatedly over 30 hours and did not receive an ambulance. Reports from that incident indicate ambulances could not get within several blocks of many patients because of a major snowstorm.  EMS personnel were chastised publicly by government officials because they didn't "get out and walk" to patients. Ultimately, at least one person died and many did not receive ambulance service for prolonged periods of time. The outcome? A number of Pittsburgh EMS paramedics relieved of duty or fired.

Several commonalities exist between Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in February, 2010 and New York City in December, 2010. In both Pittsburgh and NYC:

  • we saw a predicted major snow event. 
  • we saw a failure of local government and public works to be able to effectively manage the snowfall… that is, an inability to plow the roads.
  •  there were reports of the 911 system being overwhelmed with calls and vehicles unable to respond because roads were not passable.
  • we have seen reports of tragic deaths as a result of the situation.
  • emergency responders have been blamed for the failed response.

This is a disturbing trend. A trend that can be traced to hurricane Katrina (Dr. Ana Pou)  and other disaster situations.

According to NYC Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano as reported by CNN
"Last week's blizzard presented tremendous challenges for the Department that are currently being addressed with an eye toward improving performance going forward,"..."Despite Chief Peruggia's dedicated service to this Department, I felt new leadership was needed at this time,"

 Are we to believe (or are we being led to believe) that this EMS chief is being held responsible in some way for the failed response to the snowstorm? The fact of the matter is, in both Pittsburgh and New York City, the local government failed in its mission to provide basic services during a time of crisis.

In both cases the storm was predicted well in advance. Yet, New York City (the largest city in our nation) was not able to plow the streets or even to make them passable for ambulances. Now in the wake of tragedy and scrutiny the EMS leadership is faulted and fired. This despite accusations of sabotage on the part of public Works.

 The bottom line is that New York City was not prepared for this natural, predicted, expected event. What are we to think when the nation's largest city with overwhelming resources is not able to handle a predicted natural event? How can we think (or even say) that we are prepared for anything?

And how long will we go on blaming those further down the food chain for the failures in preparedness of local government?

The EMS chief in New York City is no more responsible for the failed response than you or I.

If there is proof that employees of the sanitation Department of New York City participated in sabotage of the response to this snow emergency, then there should be criminal as well as civil liability. But, at the end of the day it is the city of New York that has failed.

 What will happen when the next event is not predicted?

You can read the full article here.

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