State arbitrator clears fire officer in Lockport death - The Buffalo News

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State arbitrator clears fire officer in Lockport death

LOCKPORT – Assistant Chief Joseph A. Morello followed Lockport Fire Department procedures last year and should not be disciplined in connection with the death of the mother of Alderman John Lombardi III, a state arbitrator has ruled.

The report quotes Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite as testifying that he wouldn’t have tried to discipline Morello at all if it weren’t for Lombardi’s involvement, as the angry alderman confronted him the day after his mother died.

The city sought to demote Morello and suspend him for 30 days. That penalty was stopped by a union grievance and now won’t occur, by order of arbitrator Michael S. Lewandowski of the state Public Employment Relations Board. His 24-page report concluded, “The chief flat out acknowledged [Morello’s] judgment was not exercised in so egregious a manner as to justify discipline. The chief further acknowledges that but for political influence, [Morello] would not be charged at all.”

Jeanette A. Lombardi, 75, died Sept. 20, 2012, after going into anaphylactic shock in her West Avenue home in an apparent reaction to medication she received during a dental appointment that morning.

That morning, the entire regular platoon on duty, including a fire truck and one of the city’s two ambulances, was involved in a training exercise at a chemical plant in Lowertown.

Knowing there would be no one left at the fire station, Passuite scheduled a standby crew with Morello as duty officer. About 11:10 a.m., Morello received a call requesting an ambulance to transport a psychiatric patient from Lockport to Medina. Morello sent out some of his standby crew and the second ambulance. He also summoned three more firefighters to come in to work.

About 11:30 a.m. came a 911 call from Jeanette Lombardi’s home, reported to Morello by the police officer who answered the call as “difficulty breathing.” Morello decided to request mutual aid from South Lockport Fire Company, but it failed to gather a crew, forcing the call to be switched to Wrights Corners Fire Company. By the time its ambulance reached West Avenue, Jeanette Lombardi could not be revived.

Morello and Passuite agreed that “difficulty breathing” can be minor or serious, but the police officer who relayed the call didn’t offer any details.

Passuite testified at a July 17 hearing that he tried to discipline Morello because the assistant chief didn’t send a fire truck and crew to the Lombardi home. But Passuite admitted in his testimony that the fire truck available had no medical equipment nor protective gear that would have allowed the firefighters to treat the patient. The arbitrator wrote that the department has now remedied that omission, but as things stood 14 months ago, Passuite testified that sending the truck wouldn’t have saved Jeanette Lombardi’s life.

Lewandowski wrote that Morello “acted in a manner that was consistent with the department’s overall practice, yet he alone is subject to discipline? Fundamental fairness dictates that such discipline should not stand.”

Alderman Lombardi, whose sister filed a wrongful death suit against the city in July, did not return calls seeking comment. Passuite declined comment, saying he hadn’t seen the report.


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