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NY city settles wrongful death suit over late ambulance arrival

The ambulance arrived 13 minutes after the 911 call was placed; the city is in a fight over staffing cuts with the fire union

By Joe Olenick
The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — A settlement has been reached between the City of Lockport and the estate of an alderman's mother, who died prior to an ambulance arriving 13 minutes after the initial 911 call was made.

The city and the estate of Jeanette A. Lombardi, the mother of 1st Ward Alderman John Lombardi III, agreed to the settlement Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed.

City Attorney John J. Ottaviano said settling the case means the city can now move forward with a separate legal issue with the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association union.

Two weeks ago the LPFA filed documents stating the city's attempt at cutting minimum staffing and service levels would put residents at risk. In the filing they used Mrs. Lombardi as an example of that risk, citing that the Lockport Fire Department was unable to provide a timely medical response on the day of her death and that "she may have been saved, had the proper equipment been available."

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III signed a temporary restraining order reversing the city's decision. The city and the union return to court May 28 to argue if a permanent order should be in place, or if the city will be allowed to follow through on the reductions.

The LPFA filing put the city in a tight spot, Ottaviano said. It couldn't comment on the LPFA filing without affecting the Lombardi suit, or vice-versa.

"Settlement of this case frees the city's hands to discuss the LPFA's reference to that in their filing," he said. "We couldn't even address it... anything we said could be used against us in the other suit."

The closest thing to a response from the city about the use of Lombardi's case in the LPFA filing came earlier this month when Deputy Corporation Counsel David Blackley said LPFA's version of the story was incorrect.

According to the a Supreme Court filing by Mrs. Lombardi's daughter, Beth A. Arajs, Lombardi, 75, died Sept. 20, 2012 after experiencing sudden physical distress. An ambulance was called 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, which is an allergic reaction.

The Lombardi suit, filed July 3 of last year, alleged the city failed to deliver a quick response that could have saved her life.

But according to L.F.D., when city dispatch received the ambulance call, both of the department'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.

There is some question whether one of the city ambulances was in fact available, as sources at the time told the US&J that the training exercise was in fact over when the 911 call came in and a second departmental standard operating procedure, concerning how to handle 911 calls when ambulances are occupied, also was violated. The Fire Board looked into the alleged violations and never recommended any discipline.


(c)2014 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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