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I’m going to stay on this story for a while, as no one other than Rogue Medic and I seem to have much interest in finding out what really happened.

From Pittsburgh Tribune Review via EMSResponder comes this story,

Cascade of Failures Paralyzed Pittsburgh During Snowstorm

Feb. 21–On the morning of Feb. 6, Pittsburgh Public Works Director Robert “Kaz” Kaczorowski greeted his frowning boss, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. In bad spirits even after celebrating his 30th birthday at the Foggy Goggle pub at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Ravenstahl clomped into the Emergency Operations Center in Point Breeze like a baseball manager making the long walk from the dugout to the mound to ask a shaky pitcher for the ball.

Got that? During the blizzard, or mere hours before it, the Mayor was at his birthday party. Outside of the city. Stuck and unable to get back into town. So while we might not have an answer to Rogue Medic’s question,

Where Was Public Safety Director Michael Huss during the Death of Curtis Mitchell?, we know where the Mayor was.

To continue,

“If it happens again, the city will be better prepared. We’ll have a more inclusive plan. The Department of Public Works will cooperate better with emergency services,” said Kaczorowski.

It appears that Kaczorowski is admitting that Public Works wasn’t cooperating with Public Safety during this storm. Once again, city administration is at fault.


On Feb. 5, Kaczorowski wasn’t having problems solely with his secondary road crews. His primary route plowers failed to push off the snow before the dreaded “hard pack” set in.

The 2008 plan scripted to revamp Public Works’ previously poor plowing performance is intricate — kind of like a complex, interlinked power grid, according to Kaczorowski and his crews. When drivers stopped plowing to extricate police or paramedics, a cascading, systemic failure ensued citywide.

By Saturday morning, teams had abandoned even the main arteries to focus on vital roads leading to hospitals and emergency services.

“In a regular snowstorm, you can afford to pull a (DPW) truck to help,” said Public Safety Director Huss. “But we had so many ambulances stuck, and we also had a lot of police stuck, that we had their trucks helping us. There were constant emergency calls coming in. I made the decision later on, that’s it. Let Public Works focus on the streets. If they open up the streets, then we don’t have vehicles stuck.”

Police wagons weren’t affected because they’re four-wheel drive vehicles. Fire trucks fared relatively well. Assistant Fire Chief James Crawford said that only seven of his heavy trucks got stuck because durable steel chains kept the tires moving and firefighters carry shovels onboard — and don’t mind using them.

The city is still probing the number of stuck Emergency Management Services ambulances and police cruisers. Police officials didn’t return calls seeking comment. Paramedics referred questions to Huss.

“EMS had switched to a cable-like chain that was easier to put on and that did not come loose as often. And they had worked fine for EMS. But with the amount of snow we had, they didn’t work,” said Huss.

EMS city replaced the chains during the emergency with better models purchased in Johnstown. But because so many ambulances and police cruisers kept getting trapped, Pennsylvania National Guardsmen activated for the emergency helped first responders run more than 200 missions — from picking up prescriptions at neighborhood pharmacies to ensuring that dialysis patients got to their treatments.

But to listen to Huss, it’s still all the paramedics’ fault for not walking 1/4 mile to the house.

A total systemic collapse in Pittsburgh, lead by the Mayor’s decision to go out and Pah-tay to celebrate his birthday. His 30th birthday. Which makes me wonder about the decision making abilities of Pittsburgh voters who elected a kid to run their city. That’s their business, however. What’s important to me is that the two paramedics designated as scapegoats for their bosses failures don’t get punished for events beyond their control.

The first thing the Mayor should do is remove Huss as Public Safety Director. Seems like he is just a mill churning out one bad decision after another. Then the Mayor can take some responsibility for a change. Blaming your subordinates might be sound politics, but it’s bad management. Remember what President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” Here being the Mayor’s office, not on a paramedic ambulance stuck in the snow.

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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.


  1. If the mayor dropped a plate, he'd have 15 excuses for someone else breaking the plate (before it hits the ground), except for him. Seriously, he's 30. Look at that generation. A great deal of them do not take responsibility for themselves or their actions. That is part of what is wrong with society today. He is also a modern day politician and had to 'learn' the trade from someone, eh?Great post.Paramedics to blame-ha! What a lark!

  2. I've worked more than a few snowstorms in my life…and a couple that were historic (at least for my area).I was off (fortunately) for the famed "Halloween Blizzard" (91?). This was good, as I could not readily determine which 6 foot drift was a drift, and which hid my car. My street wasn't plowed for 2 days (waist deep drifts)…28 inches all at once.Our crews did struggle with that one, though there were no known failures to respond. Everyone worked together (a Minnesota thing?).Thanksgiving weekend saw another 2 feet of snow at once. Took me 4 hours to get to work…in addition to working together, we had (and still carry) a stout shovel (big enough for snow, heavy enough for coal/gravel). We did find ourselves sometimes walking to calls, as we couldn't get any closer than a main street…but with our (and fire's, and sometimes a neighbor's) shovel in hand, we could readily clear a path back to the rig…unless one of the locals doing driveway/alley clearing came along; then he'd plow a path for the ambulance.If it were just that the medics refused to walk to the scene, it's one thing. But wandering through the snow with no idea which house is the address, and being canceled by dispatch…that speaks to the system…as does the lack of cooperation/preparedness of the city administration.Maybe less people drive 4x4s out there…during the bigger storms many officers are permitted to use their 4×4 POV (they're provided with a bubble light for show). Squads are limited to those who drive a Prius…and they get stuck doing all the arrest transports.Bob

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