A family’s search for answers

The cir­cum­stances of the death of a 22-year-old Port Rich­mond man last year are un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion by the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment. His fam­ily says the tragedy is the res­ult of neg­li­gent para­med­ics. 

  • Tommy’s Petroski’s parents, Tom and June, with his young cousins, Tori and Bailey, in front of the Petroskis’ Aramingo Avenue home. The sign the Petroskis had made to call attention to what they say is paramedic negligence hangs above the sidewalk outside. June holds Tommy’s ashes. MIKALA JAMISON / STAR PHOTO

  • Tommy’s banner outside the Petroskis’ home on the 3200 block of Aramingo Avenue. Fire Department representatives as well as the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections have asked the Petroskis to remove the sign, June said. MIKALA JAMISON / STAR PHOTO

  • Tom and June Petroski in their Aramingo Avenue home, with a picture of their son, Tommy, who died at age 22 on October 14, 2012. MIKALA JAMISON / STAR PHOTO

June Pet­roski said her son Thomas had asthma since he was 2 months old. Doc­tors once told her, she said, that he was “al­ler­gic to everything in the West­ern hemi­sphere.” 

It was that severe asthma that led Pet­roski to call an am­bu­lance for her son on Oct. 14, 2012. 

“He had asthma at­tacks all the time, and he al­ways waited un­til the last minute to go to the hos­pit­al if he thought he really needed to, be­cause he hated go­ing to the hos­pit­al,” Pet­roski said of her son, who was called Tommy. 

Tommy walked up to his moth­er that Oc­to­ber day and told her to call an am­bu­lance, be­cause he “wouldn’t make the car ride,” she said. 

Less than an hour later, Thomas Joseph Pet­roski, 22, was dead. He died from acute ex­acer­ba­tion of asthma, ac­cord­ing to his death cer­ti­fic­ate. 

June and her hus­band Tom said they elieve their on’s death was a res­ult of neg­li­gence on the part of the two para­med­ics who re­spon­ded to the 911 call on the day of Tommy’s death — Sad­ie Smith and Michelle Roche. 

Neither Smith nor Roche could be reached for com­ment.

A Fire De­part­ment source did con­firm, however, that the two had been “in­def­in­itely de­tained else­where,” to a Mount Airy fire­house. The two were sta­tioned at Med­ic 10 at 4th Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue at the time of the 911 call, June said.

June, and the rest of the Pet­roski fam­ily, have made a plea for justice by way of a ban­ner that hangs above the side­walk at the Pet­ros­kis’ Ara­mingo Av­en­ue home. 

It reads: “Justice for the death of our son Tommy Pet­roski, against the city of Phil­adelphia para­med­ics Sad­ie Smith and Michelle Roche.” 

The Pet­ros­kis are cur­rently speak­ing with law­yers, but have not yet filed suit. 

Once the ban­ner went up, June said, “all hell broke loose.” 

City para­med­ic ser­vices of­fi­cials have vis­ited the fam­ily’s home to ask them to re­move the sign, and so has the De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions, which said that the sign is a street haz­ard that could fall and cause an ac­ci­dent, June said.

Jeremi­ah Laster, fire para­med­ic ser­vices chief, would not com­ment when Star reached him by phone Fri­day oth­er than to say that the spe­cif­ics of the day of Tommy’s death are cur­rently un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion. 

June Pet­roski said she was told that Roche and Smith were in­ter­viewed by Laster about the day’s events on Nov. 12. 

Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment ex­ec­ut­ive chief Richard Dav­is­on did not re­spond to an email re­quest­ing com­ment. 

Chris­toph­er Baldini, fire para­med­ic cap­tain, could not be reached for com­ment. June said he per­son­ally asked her to re­move the sign when he vis­ited the Pet­roski home, and she said, “No, not un­til I get justice.” 

For her, she said, justice comes in the form of the para­med­ics los­ing their jobs, pen­sions, and li­censes. She also said she wants laws change that per­mit para­med­ics to have a longer edu­ca­tion peri­od than they do — para­med­ics are re­quired to have 1000 to 1200 hours of edu­ca­tion, de­pend­ing on which school they at­tend in or­der to take the Na­tion­al Re­gistry Ex­am.

“These people are sup­posed to be able to save your life,” she said. “It’s pure neg­li­gence.” 

The story of the day of her son’s death, ac­cord­ing to June Pet­roski and her hus­band, Tom, is a tra­gic one. 

Once she called 911, Pet­roski said the am­bu­lance came with­in four to five minutes, and the two fe­male para­med­ics ar­rived in an am­bu­lance.

“By then,” Pet­roski said, “My son’s lips were already turn­ing purple.” 

The am­bu­lance missed her house, at first, she said, and had to turn around. Once the am­bu­lance parked, Pet­roski said the para­med­ics brought in­to the house: a plastic wheel­chair, called a stair chair, an oxy­gen tank, and a black bag of sup­plies that the Pet­ros­kis claim the para­med­ics nev­er opened.

Wit­nesses present that day —  Tom Pet­roski, Tommy’s sis­ter Kerri Pet­roski and her boy­friend Mi­chael Don­nelly, June’s niece Taylor Muncie, as well as three neigh­bors — all told the same story when in­ter­viewed by at­tor­neys, ac­cord­ing to their writ­ten state­ments. 

The oxy­gen tank Roche and Smith brought in­to the house was empty, they said.

Once that be­came ap­par­ent, Tom and June said, the para­med­ics al­lowed Mi­chael Don­nelly to go in­to the am­bu­lance to re­trieve an­oth­er oxy­gen tank, which was then nev­er used.

“They had de­cided to load him in­to the am­bu­lance at that point [be­fore they used the second tank],” June said. 

Charles De­Bonis, the EMS course co­ordin­at­or for the Jeff­STAT EMS edu­ca­tion cen­ter at Thomas Jef­fer­son Uni­versity Hos­pit­al, told Star Monday that all vehicle equip­ment on an am­bu­lance should be checked pri­or to the be­gin­ning of a shift, but de­pend­ing on the ser­vice, that might not hap­pen every day. 

“As far as oxy­gen is con­cerned, each am­bu­lance needs to have on board oxy­gen and three port­able cyl­in­ders” De­Bonis said. 

He fur­ther ex­plained that in the case of para­med­ics’ re­sponse to an asthma at­tack, oxy­gen may or may not need to be ad­min­istered, de­pend­ing on each situ­ation. 

“What’s more likely is that they need to ad­min­is­ter med­ic­a­tion, al­b­uter­ol,” he said. “Oxy­gen will help in the ‘short term,’” De­Bonis said, but ex­plained that the bron­chi­al path­ways in the pa­tient’s lungs need to be dilated — if the pa­tient’s lungs aren’t open, oxy­gen won’t ne­ces­sar­ily help.

Gary Collins, chief med­ic­al ex­am­iner with the city’s Health De­part­ment, would not com­ment on the situ­ation when reached by Star.

It’s not clear what ex­actly happened in Tommy Pet­roski’s case. June Pet­roski said that the para­med­ics did ad­min­is­ter what’s called a re-breath­er mask, which is one of the meth­ods for ad­min­is­ter­ing oxy­gen to a pa­tient, ac­cord­ing to De­Bonis. That re-breath­er mask, June said, was con­nec­ted to the oxy­gen tank that was empty.  

June also said that the para­med­ics’ am­bu­lance re­cord is in­cor­rect. It says that the para­med­ics ob­tained an EKG, hooked Tommy up to an IV, and ad­min­istered med­ic­a­tion to him, all be­fore load­ing him in­to the am­bu­lance at 3:03 p.m. that day. June and Tom said the para­med­ics did none of those things be­fore load­ing him in­to the am­bu­lance.  

The Pet­ros­kis said that the para­med­ics also had trouble lift­ing Tommy — who weighed 156 pounds — and needed help from Tom Pet­roski and a neigh­bor.

By the time Tommy was brought out­side, June said, “his eyes were blank, and rolling back in his head.” 

He was then loaded in­to the am­bu­lance and taken to Temple Uni­versity Epis­copal Hos­pit­al. 

At the hos­pit­al, Pet­roski said, she was told Thomas had gone in­to car­di­ac ar­rest from be­ing un­able to breathe for so long. Hos­pit­al staff had opened up his lungs and his air­ways, but couldn’t get his heart to start again. 

Tommy was, by all ac­counts, a stan­dup kid. His moth­er said he was an avid soc­cer play­er all four years at North Cath­ol­ic High School. He was god­fath­er to his young neph­ew. He at­ten­ded Gwynedd-Mercy Col­lege for three years, study­ing busi­ness and then crim­in­al justice. 

Tommy’s par­ents said they just want one thing.

“I want dis­cip­line, I want justice,” Tom Pet­roski said.

The Pet­ros­kis vis­ited the of­fice of state Rep. John Taylor on Fri­day, Nov. 15. June Pet­roski said she wants to talk about get­ting laws changed in re­gard to how long para­med­ics have to train.

Marc Collazzo, dis­trict of­fice man­ager for Taylor’s of­fice, said in an email he could not com­ment bey­ond say­ing that the of­fice is “re­view­ing EMT and para­med­ic pro­to­cols to de­term­ine if and how they can be im­proved to avoid an­oth­er tragedy such as this.” ••

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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