Searching for answers

De­mand­ing justice: Tom and June Pet­roski are shown with a photo of their son, Tommy, who died last year. The death of the 22-year-old is un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion by the Fire De­part­ment. MI­KALA JAM­IS­ON / TIMES PHOTO

By Mi­kala Jam­is­on

North­east Times

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 day and told her to call an am­bu­lance, be­cause he “wouldn’t make the car ride,” she said. 

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

June said that she be­lieves her son’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.

Jeremi­ah Laster, fire para­med­ic ser­vices chief, would not com­ment when the North­east Times 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 about the day’s events on Nov. 12, by Laster. 

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, 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. 

“I also want the laws changed,” she con­tin­ued. “These people are sup­posed to be able to save your life. 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 what the para­med­ics brought in to the house was a plastic wheel­chair, called a stair chair, an oxy­gen tank, and a black bag of sup­plies that the Pet­ros­kis claim the para­med­ics nev­er used.

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 the North­east Times 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 the North­east Times.

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 said the para­med­ics did none of those things be­fore tak­ing her son to the hos­pit­al.  

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. 

“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.” •• 

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