The recent demotion of the FDNY Chief of EMS John Peruggia over the Blizzageddon 10 response has quite a few people, myself included, scratching their heads. While I may not always (translation: hardly ever) agree with FDNY EMS brass and the decisions they make, in the scope of the emergency response of the city to the snowstorm the least culpable would have been the Chief of EMS. There are many other city leaders who have responsibilities to perform functions that are vital to the success of the EMS mission.
Here are the people, in my personal opinion, who betrayed John Peruggia and in doing so betrayed NYC EMS as a whole:
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty
First off there is Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty. The Commissioner not only failed the people of New York, but he failed his own work force. There was no full force recall of Sanitation workers made until mid-afternoon Christmas Day for 7:00pm Sunday evening even though the snow storm was predicted to hit as early as Thursday that week. How many Sanitation workers were celebrating with families or were out of town? How many received the notice late and scrambled to get back to the city… some travelling all hours of the night in order to beat the snow. Additionally, by 7:00pm, there was already 3-6 inches on the ground in some places so the Sanitation workers were trying to play catch up.
Why wasn’t he demoted or fired first? Because he hides behind the stories of a phantom labor action that no one seems to be able to prove other than anecdotal evidence.
NYC OEM Commissioner Joe Bruno
Next on the list is the head of the New York City Office Of Emergency Management (NYC OEM) Commissioner Joe Bruno. Whenever you go to anything with OEM, they always say that it is their job to “coordinate”. So where was the coordination during the storm? The NYC OEM Emergency Operations Center was only partially activated Sunday afternoon. Wouldn’t you think a blizzard should warrant a full activation BEFORE the first flake hit the ground?
NYC OEM’s job is also to keep the public advised of the emergencies going on. This is a mission they seem to do half-heartedly to begin with. Here is a screenshot of their @NotifyNYC account on Twitter:
- There was one blizzard warning issued on 12/25/10 at 7:02pm, so OEM knew a blizzard was coming
- There were four tweets on 12/26/10
- one dealing with parking regulations
- three tweets dealing with mass transit issues
- There were ten tweets during the height of the storm on 12/27/10
- two having to do with parking regulations
- two with transit delays
- one roof collapse
- two fires
- one warning about carbon monoxide poisoning
- one requesting citizens to help clear hydrants
Now if you are “coordinating” the efforts, and you learn that the EMS response is being hindered by unplowed streets and then you learn that streets can’t be properly plowed because people have abandoned their vehicles, wouldn’t you put it out there to the citizens that they should not be driving on the roads? Perhaps you might want to declare a snow emergency or ask the mayor to declare a state of emergency? Did Joe Bruno do any of that?
He didn’t do any of that because in his mind his job is just to “coordinate”. The harsh truth is that he was not truly coordinating anything and was severely out of touch with the situation on the street.
So why wasn’t Joe Bruno demoted or fired first? Joe Bruno is a former Fire Commissioner who served under Mayor Ed Koch and it would seem that the current Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano offered to sacrifice one of his own in Bruno’s place. Of course, Cassano isn’t going to offer up one of his brilliant Fire Suppression Chiefs who did such a great job having a fire engine sit on the scene with an asthmatic for 10 hours and running through 26 oxygen tanks before transporting them to the hospital, but instead offered up the Three Star Chief of EMS because in all honesty the Fire Department has no real interest in EMS other than justifying the budget and uses it as cannon fodder.
I’m not going to totally absolve John Peruggia for what occurred. He has isolated his agency from long time partners in serving the city and its citizens at the volunteer level, the voluntary hospital level, and the private level. This superiority complex and unchecked departmental ego definitely came back to bite him during this event. Of course there will be those who claim he was just doing what he was told, but a leader leads and if he wasn’t willing to push back against his Fire Suppression handlers in the best interest of the patient then perhaps it is better that he not be in the position he was.
I am however a strong believer of the punishment fitting the crime, and in the scope of this specific incident John Peruggia was ultimately betrayed by those handlers and by John Doherty and Joe Bruno in an attempt to preserve their own jobs.
While the mayor may be easily fooled, I assure you that the citizens of New York City are not.