Pa. EMS director remembered for inspiring, mentoring many for decades
Foxwall EMS Chief Tony Cuda started in EMS as a teenager and quickly became a paramedic
By Tawnya Panizzi
PITTSBURGH — Emergency services lost a giant in the field with the death of Foxwall EMS Chief Tony Cuda on Oct. 28, according to friends and peers.
Cuda, 54, served with numerous local departments, from Swissvale to Aspinwall to Penn Hills, inspiring countless members with his mentoring and benchmark of excellence.
Service to community was second only to his family, many said, and Cuda will be fondly remembered for his downtime passions of Dungeons & Dragons, Kennywood, history, the Renaissance Festival, Comicon and reading.
“We have been fortunate and prosperous that Tony’s love of people and fervor for life spanned the public safety professions,” Foxwall Assistant Chief Peter Adams said. “He touched countless people who were mentored by him, who worked alongside him and who were fortunate enough to have him as their prehospital caregiver in EMS.”
Cuda will be honored with a funeral procession by public safety personnel that will stretch from Bock Funeral Home along Mt. Royal Boulevard in Shaler through multiple communities including Etna, Fox Chapel, Aspinwall, Penn Hills and Monroeville.
Community and business members are asked to stand on the sidewalks and wave, salute or honk horns to honor the chief and offer support to his peers, who are heartbroken, Adams said.
Cuda led Foxwall for only three years but spent decades in emergency services, starting as a teen.
Born in Swissvale, Cuda joined the borough’s fire department at 16 and quickly trained to become a paramedic.
He spent nearly the next four decades striving to set a benchmark of excellence and become an inspiration for younger generations, Adams said.
“He has a legacy of unparalleled contributions and impact, and was a beacon of dedication, compassion and leadership,” Adams said.
Cuda joined Wilkinsburg EMS and was promoted to crew chief before becoming a paramedic at St. Margaret Hospital, near Aspinwall.
He simultaneously worked as the chief officer at Seneca Area EMS, where he led the Sharpsburg-based department for 15 years.
Cuda later worked as a paramedic for 23 years at Penn Hills EMS, where he became an integral part of the community. He also spent time as a firefighter and paramedic for Monroeville Fire for six years and was a life-member of the Aspinwall Volunteer Fire Department.
“Tony was a very unique individual,” said Diane Fitzhenry, EMS supervisor at Penn Hills EMS.
“He had a great sense of humor and, as serious as he could be, he could poke the bear and torment people all in good fun. He also accepted it in fun when people gave it back.”
Fitzhenry said Cuda’s contributions to EMS span generations, not only in the field but as a teacher.
“He was the lead instructor in my paramedic class,” Fitzhenry said, referring to her course at CCAC.
“He’s done an awful lot for EMS, in general, across the area. We have several people working here now that were the result of Tony’s education.”
In addition to his primary roles, Cuda served in part-time capacities at East Ambulance, Medline Ambulance Service, Guardian Angel Ambulance Services, Northwest EMS and AHN Prehospital Services.
Adams said that during the three years Cuda served at Foxwall, he transformed the service from a historically volunteer-based and largely basic life support service to a fully staffed advanced life support (ALS) group.
Eight newly certified paramedics joined Foxwall this year, a feat in today’s world of shrinking emergency service numbers.
“You cannot imagine this loss,” said Gino Mollica, Foxwall captain. “I cannot put into words the sheer grief and sadness our crews feel right now.”
Among Cuda’s contributions to the field, colleagues said his mentorship is at the top of the list.
He was an educator who inspired students to reach their potential, always emphasizing the principles of clinical excellence, patient advocacy and compassion, Adams said.
Since 1999, Cuda served as the program coordinator of ALS Programs at the Public Safety Institute of Community College of Allegheny County, where he supervised more than 70 program instructors and course coordinators.
“From his very first class to his last, while the curriculum evolved to meet new standards of care, Tony’s core teachings of what it means to be a paramedic never changed,” Adams said.
“He proudly instilled that the best paramedics are the ones that never stop learning.”
Human connections were a motivator for Cuda — he was known for saying, “Medic class teaches you enough to not kill a patient ... the patients you will encounter will take you the rest of the way.”
“To say Tony was a remarkable man is an understatement, and we owe an eternal debt for his contribution to our service and communities,” Mollica said.
Public visitation at Bock Funeral Home will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday. There will be a private viewing for invited public safety members from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday and a public viewing for members of emergency services from 7 to 8 p.m.