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Photos: Outgoing Pittsburgh EMS chief reflects on 45-year tenure with city

“It was a great career ... I hope I made a difference,” said Ron Romano. “Every day is now going to be Saturday”


Photo/Pittsburgh Bureau of EMS

By Justin Vellucci
The Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Pittsburgh EMS Chief Ron Romano’s final day in uniform — March 31 — was nearly 14 years to the day since a gunman fatally shot three Pittsburgh police officers while they were responding to a domestic dispute in Stanton Heights.

Romano still remembers the sense of urgency to get to the scene that day as a defining moment of his 45-year EMS career.

“It was just one or two blocks from my house,” said Romano, 66, who is retiring as the oldest person to have served as Pittsburgh’s EMS chief. “Those are the kinds of things that jump back at you, other terrible things.”

Romano’s storied EMS career started in 1975 with Perman Ambulance Service, a private service that was based in Lawrenceville. The city of Pittsburgh hired him as a paramedic in March 1978, according to Pittsburgh Public Safety spokeswoman Cara Cruz.

After two years on the North Side at Medic 4, Romano was promoted to crew chief and spent five years at Medic 3 in the West End and two years at the now-out-of-service Medic 13.

Romano climbed the ranks to become a field supervisor, which later became the district chief position, Cruz said. In February 2005, he advanced to division chief of the ambulance division, a position that also handled all EMS planning for major events in Pittsburgh.

“As I worked through the ranks at Pittsburgh EMS, Ron always took on special circumstances as a crew chief,” said Division Chief Tony Darkowski, who has worked for the city’s emergency services agency for 42 years. “He had an uncanny knowledge of how to provide medical coverage for large events, and I was inspired by that knowledge.”

Romano became deputy EMS chief in March 2016 and was promoted in October 2018 as the city’s seventh Chief of Pittsburgh EMS by then-Mayor Bill Peduto. It was just days before 11 people were shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill — another defining moment for Romano.

Romano recalled other incidents, some less dramatic. In 1986, he said he was on a 911 call in Highland Park when he got a small unconscious baby breathing again before his crew reached Children’s Hospital. That baby is now a teacher and has visited Romano often over the years.

Romano also served as chief during of the most challenging periods of his career: the covid-19 pandemic.

“We did not have one employee get admitted to the hospital, let alone pass away, during the pandemic,” Romano said shortly before Pittsburgh City Council honored him by declaring March 28 “Chief Ronald Romano Day” in the city.

“We were able to continue to support the system and put the trucks on the road every day when numerous systems across the country were shutting down. That’s a compliment to all of my staff,” Romano said.

“He was always the consummate professional who put his staff and their well-being first,” Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said. “His calm nature and dedication to the job will be greatly missed, but Chief Romano has left the Bureau of EMS on solid footing and in capable hands.”

Amera Gilchrist has been named acting chief. Mayor Ed Gainey ultimately will select the eighth chief.

“No one has ever come in from the cold,” Romano said. “It’s always been a natural promotion process. You want to keep some of that institutional knowledge intact.”

Gainey’s office was unavailable for comment.

Darkowski said he will miss Romano’s calming presence on the squad. He also will miss how he seemed to always be educating his peers, helping them to improve.

“Ron was able to mentor me on how to produce an employee daily rundown,” Darkowski said. “Later, I was promoted to division chief and placed in command of providing medical coverage for special events in the city. And Ron is the one that taught me how to cover those events.”

Romano looks back at his 45-year career with a bit of awe.

“It was a great career. You think back to your first day and think, ‘Am I going to be there that long?’” Romano said. “I hope I made a difference.”

Romano’s next task: taking it easy.

Romano has volunteered alongside a group of “older paramedics” to help counsel EMS agencies on their direction, but he also plans to go to Disney World and spend more time with his six granddaughters. He and his wife, Lucy, have two daughters (Rachel and Leah) and a son ( Ron Jr.).

“The way I look at it, every day is now going to be Saturday,” he said.


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