Niagara Gazette

July 8, 2013

Lockport lawmaker's sister suing city over mother's death

By Joyce Miles
Niagara Gazette

LOCKPORT — An alderman's sister has filed a lawsuit against the city 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 the Lockport Fire Department, which fields all ambulance calls in the city, contributed to Lombardi's death.

Jeanette Lombardi, 75, was the mother of 1st Ward Alderman John Lombardi III. She died Sept. 20, 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 the LFD — she had died.

Autopsy results indicate the cause of Lombardi's death was anaphylactic shock, 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.

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 the LFD has two ambulances and nine firefighters/paramedics on duty at all times, was the subject of an investigation by Fire Chief Thomas Passuite.

When city dispatch received the ambulance call, both of the LFD's ambulances reportedly were in use, one on an out-of-town transport and the other in a training exercise at VanDeMark Chemical.

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.

It turns out that one of the city ambulances was actually available while Wrights Corners was being summoned to take the Lombardi call. Passuite's investigation showed at least two LFD standard operating procedures were violated while the call was being handled by local police and fire officers.

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

Second, the ambulance that was listed as "out of service" for the training exercise was in fact available. 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.

Meanwhile, the city's liability insurance carrier is still 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, City Attorney John Ottaviano said.

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.