The Gall

Tuesday, 15 February 2011 09:15 AM Written by 

(she gave the least full measure of devotion, and that, apparently, was more than enough for an arbitrator)

If you are not angered, if you are not incensed, if you are not outraged to the point of aneurysm by this headline...

Paramedic who refused aid during snowstorm reinstated

...there is no hope for you. And you probably belong to a union.

PghEMSIf you are not offended, if you are not exasperated, if you are not affronted to the point of combustion by this sentence...

The city was ordered to return Josie Dimon to work with back pay, except for a three-day suspension that the arbitrator considered warranted.

...there is no hope for any of us. And you probably belong to a union.

Before we go any further — before we even attempt to consider why an arbitrator, who is supposed to be the voice of dispassionate justice but sounds here like the voice of cold, inhuman prejudice, believes that no more than three days’ suspension should be the going rate of punishment for a paramedic whose failure to respond to a call allows her caller to die — we should refresh ourselves with the particulars.

And by
particulars, I mean stomach-turning truths.

On the morning of February 6th, 2010, as Hazelwood resident Curtis Mitchell lay dying just four blocks away from her idling ambulance, acting paramedic crew chief Josie Dimon demanded that he walk through the snow to reach it. After waiting nineteen minutes — an amount of time sufficient for her to have walked the four blocks herself, assessed Mr. Mitchell’s condition, and walked or at least reported back — Ms. Dimon, whose understanding of the term
first responder must surely be different than mine, plumbed the depths of her humanity and summoned the following expression of compassion:    

“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."

A few minutes later, when a dying man had not walked four blocks through the snow to present himself to his able-bodied but obviously ill-souled paramedic, Ms. Dimon dug a little deeper and came up almost as empty:

Is he on his way? Because we are not going to wait all day for him.

(You can listen to the 911 recordings here. If you can listen to them more than once, you have a stronger stomach for tragedy, and a higher tolerance for outrage, than I.)

On March 23rd, 2010, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who were birthday partying at Seven Springs while Curtis Mitchell lay dying and Josie Dimon stood waiting, unveiled a report
 that determined Ms. Dimon had 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 language was clear, the understatement generous. The punishment — a five-day unpaid suspension and possible termination — was a good start.

That same day, paramedic union President Anthony Weinmann, doing at once a service to his membership and a disservice to his community, declared he would challenge the punishment.
They were simply following orders, he said. He did not say who, exactly, had ordered Ms. Dimon to play the jilted jitney driver, nor why he thought it wise to invoke the defense of Nazi prison guards.

Also that same day, paramedic union grievance coordinator Tom Polito, proving that solidarity sometimes overcomes humanity, declared, There are no grounds or merit to discipline. Zero. Which is news, I suspect, to anyone who thinks a paramedic’s job requires her to get closer than four city blocks from the dying man she’s been dispatched to save, or who believes that a call to 911 should be something better than a prayer and a crapshoot if the sun is not shining and the birds are not singing at the time.

Also that same day, a few dozen city paramedics, exhibiting a flair for melodrama rivaled only by the acuity of their persecution complex, imagined themselves as scapegoats for the city’s failed snow response, declared Director Huss’ intention to slander them and their colleagues, and boasted that many in their ranks worked around downed power lines and trudged through deep snow to answer calls during the storm. Lost on them all, apparently, were the fact that their jobs require them to work even in non-optimal conditions, and the irony that, had Ms. Dimon trudged through a little snow herself, they would not need to defend her, nor to confirm for us what we already suspected: that many paramedics did their jobs far better than she that day.

How any of that applied to a paramedic who never actually reached her patient was not sufficiently explained. Nor was the glaring disconnect between how unionized paramedics want the world to work (fail to perform the most fundamental part of your job description, and you shall not be disciplined, even if that failure results in death) and how the world works for the rest of us (fail to perform the most fundamental part of your job description and, even without a resultant death, you can be canned so fast your head will spin).

On April 2nd, 2010, the city of Pittsburgh fired Ms. Dimon for her inactions. That same day, her brothers and sisters in organized indifference, who would have done well to remember that death can not be appealed, vowed to challenge Ms. Dimon’s discipline.

And so they did.

And so yesterday, on February 14th, 2011, we discovered that what most needs, but is perhaps least likely, to be explained about this whole awful tragedy is how an arbitrator with a brain and a heart and presumably a shred or two of human decency could possibly review the facts of the case and conclude that Ms. Dimon did not deserve to be fired:

Mr. Huss said the arbitrator didn't provide a clear reason for siding with Ms. Dimon but referred to the poor weather conditions and a crime problem in Hazelwood. Mr. Huss said the characterization of Hazelwood was offensive.

Mr. Huss said the arbitrator also mentioned Mr. Huss' own absence from Pittsburgh during the snowstorm. Mr. Huss said he went to a ski resort with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl because weather forecasts at the time were not calling for a blizzard.

Let this be a warning to anyone who ever again for a medical emergency calls 911 in the city of Pittsburgh: those first responders do not have to respond, those life savers do not have to trouble themselves to save a life, those sensitive, caring, and compassionate union members do not have to show you one whit of sensitivity, caring, or compassion if it might trouble them too much, if the weather is not optimal, if someone has ever been held up in your neighborhood, or if one of their indirect supervisors is out of town, at a party, or just supervising by long-distance phone call.

In other words: Solidarity, yes. Responsibility and accountability, no.

Last February, through both her words and her inactions, Josie Dimon spat in Curtis Mitchell’s dying face. Yesterday, her arbitrator spat on his grave.  

Update, 9:06pm:
The Artist Formerly Known as PittGirl uncorked a great, blistering post on this same subject today. Highly recommended.

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