It was enough to make you lose faith in calling 911. The tragic episode of failed emergency response that preceded the death of Curtis Mitchell of Hazelwood stunned Pittsburghers after last month's historic snowstorm.
Sure, no one had seen snow this deep in a long time. Sure, no one had seen city streets this difficult in recent memory. But, then again, no one had heard a reaction on tape by a city emergency medical service employee that was this cold and callous:
"He ain't [expletive] comin' down, and I ain't waitin' all day for him. I mean, what the [expletive], this ain't no cab service."
Those were the words of acting paramedic crew chief Josie Dimon, as recorded by the city's EMS system. Her ambulance was four blocks away from Mr. Mitchell, more than 31/2 hours after he and his girlfriend began calling 911 to get help for his abdominal pain. Given the poor road and weather conditions on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 6, Ms. Dimon wanted the stricken man to walk those blocks to reach medical personnel. She was tired of waiting.
Mr. Mitchell was tired, too. He and his friend called 911 10 times in 30 hours. By the time an ambulance reached him on Feb. 7, he was dead.
On Tuesday, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Michael Huss issued disciplinary measures against Ms. Dimon and three rescue workers for, essentially, not performing a rescue. Their anger was appropriate and their outrage at the workers' lack of compassion was shared by many Pittsburghers.
Ms. Dimon faces a five-day unpaid suspension and possible firing. Crew chief Kim Long and district chiefs Norman Auvil and Ron Curry, both nonunion, face three-day unpaid suspensions. Ms. Long will get a separate three-day suspension for another storm-related call in which a North Side mother of twins, age 2, was told to walk to an ambulance to get medical care for one of her children.
The punishments for Ms. Dimon and Ms. Long will be challenged by the paramedics union. But union leaders should be careful about how they defend egregious, isolated failures while the city's hard-working, dedicated paramedics try to do a good job.
The same goes for the 50 paramedics who showed up at Tuesday's City Council meeting to say the discipline shows they were scapegoats for the city's much-criticized response to the snowstorm. That may have been lively street theater, but it did nothing to counter the lax and unprofessional attitude revealed by the EMS recording.
Some city residents want to see the EMS workers fired instead of suspended, but Mr. Huss was right to mete out discipline by the book, given the union challenges that might follow.
Public safety personnel are there to serve and, in cases of emergency, serve with dedication and dispatch. That's not what Curtis Mitchell received on Feb. 6, and those who didn't do their jobs must suffer the consequences.