Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Local News

July 8, 2013

Wrongful death suit lodged against city

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — An alderman's sister has filed a lawsuit against the City of Lockport claiming a mishandled 911 call led to their mother's death last year.

Beth A. Arajs, executor of the estate of Jeanette A. Lombardi, filed the suit in state Supreme Court last week alleging procedural lapses by Lockport Fire Department, which fields all ambulance calls in the city, contributed to Mrs. Lombardi's death.

Mrs. Lombardi, 75, was the mother of 1st Ward Alderman John Lombardi III. She died Sept. 20, 2012, at her West Avenue home, after experiencing sudden physical distress. Her husband summoned an ambulance for her at 11:30 a.m. and by the time a paramedic crew arrived at 11:43 a.m. — from Wrights Corners Volunteer Fire Company, not L.F.D. — she had died.

Autopsy results indicate the cause of Mrs. Lombardi's death was anaphylactic shock, that is, an allergic reaction to a substance such as insect venom, medication or food, and according to Arajs' attorney, Gregory Stamm, "a quick dose of epinephrine" could have saved her life.

Mrs. Lombardi's estate is suing the city because it failed to deliver that quick response, Stamm said Monday.

"It's unacceptable to leave her there 13 minutes without a response ... when the fire company is one minute away from her house," he said.

Why a volunteer crew ended up taking the Lombardi ambulance call, when L.F.D. has two ambulances and nine firefighters/paramedics on duty at all times, was the subject of an inquiry by Fire Chief Thomas Passuite last fall.

The short answer is that when city dispatch received the ambulance call, both of L.F.D.'s ambulances reportedly were in use, one on an out-of-town transport and the other in a training exercise at VanDeMark Chemical. Local dispatch contacted Niagara County Central Dispatch and invoked "mutual aid," meaning a request for service from the closest non-city company.

At the time, county call records show, a crew from Wrights Corners company was closing out a call at Eastern Niagara Hospital-Lockport, so county dispatch sent it to the Lombardi home. The crew reported it was en route to 188 West Ave. at 11:35 a.m. and arrived at the home at 11:43 a.m.

It turns out that one of the city ambulances may have been available while Wrights Corners was being summoned to take the Lombardi call. Multiple sources told the US&J late last year that Passuite determined at least two L.F.D. Standard Operating Procedures — rules governing who does what in specific instances — were violated while the call was being handled by his officers.

First, when a 911 call comes in and both L.F.D. ambulances are occupied, standard operating procedure is for a city paramedic crew to respond in a fire truck. That did not happen. Instead, the sources said, an officer in charge at the fire house — where a crew reportedly was stationed on overtime to cover for the crew that was out training — told local dispatch to invoke mutual aid.

Second, the ambulance that was listed as "out of service" for the training exercise was available, the sources said. A firefighting crew was at VanDeMark, 1 N. Transit Road, but the training exercise was over, and the officer in charge at the scene did not inform dispatch of this.

The city Fire Board looked into those alleged protocol violations, but did not ever recommend any disciplinary proceedings against the officers-in-charge that day, City Attorney John Ottaviano said Monday.

Meanwhile, the city's liability insurance carrier is investigating Arajs' original wrongful death claim, lodged this past December. The carrier has not yet indicated whether it's inclined to settle or fight the claim, Ottaviano said.

While Arajs places blame for her mother's death on alleged procedural lapses by the city, Mrs. Lombardi reportedly received medication from her dentist that is linked with anaphylaxis in rare cases. The city's defense against a negligence charge could involve that medication's history, Ottaviano acknowledged.

Alderman John Lombardi declined to comment on his sister's suit against the city. He said he wasn't aware, until a reporter informed him in a Monday morning telephone call, that it had been filed.

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