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Above and Beyond the Siren Call

Pittsburgh Tribune Review 2-11-10

With fewer crimes to investigate in the snow, Pittsburgh police joined firefighters and paramedics this week digging out snowbound residents, taking people to medical appointments and delivering food to the stranded.

“This is just a different mission for us,” police Chief Nate Harper said Wednesday. “All of the snow has really decreased crime. But people have a lot of needs, and we are here to fill them. We’re working together, and we’ll make sure we all get through this.”

At the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center in Point Breeze, a doctor is prioritizing calls for help and dispatchers often send police and paramedics with Pennsylvania National Guard troops in Humvees.

Paramedics are working 16-hour shifts, emergency medical services Chief Robert McCaughan said. The 911 center has received 876 medical calls for help since Friday night, and paramedics transported 525 patients. From 11 p.m. Tuesday until 3 p.m. yesterday, police responded to 461 calls for help, and firefighters responded to nearly 200 calls for help from midnight Wednesday until 3 p.m., fire Chief Darryl Jones said. Officers are working mandatory 12-hour shifts.

On Sunday, medics procured a snowmobile to rescue a pregnant woman who was in labor in her Carrick home with no heat or electricity, McCaughan said. Medics also hiked through the snow to reach a dying man so he could be taken to a hospice. He was taken out in a Stokes Basket, which is used for mountain rescues, and was carried down a set of steps, across a schoolyard and up another set of steps to get to the ambulance. The medics returned the next day for his wife using a Humvee provided by the National Guard, so the woman could get to her husband’s bedside.

“It’s a humanitarian thing,” McCaughan said. “People are dealing with some really unfortunate circumstances, and we are really trying to do what we can to make it better.”

The city is working with the county Department of Human Services to identify elderly residents who need help. Workers at the EOC are calling each of those people, said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Police officers have knocked on the doors of each of the approximately 200 city residents without electricity to make sure everyone is safe, Doven said. Any residence where officers received no answer will get checked again daily, police spokeswoman Diane Richard said.

Officers, firefighters and medics also are responding to calls from elderly people who need someone to get groceries, and paramedics are picking up prescriptions and transporting people to kidney dialysis and chemotherapy appointments, McCaughan said.

“If people need bread or milk, we will get it to them,” Jones said.

Firefighters also are working mandatory extended shifts and were ordered to clear streets, sidewalks and fire hydrants of snow anytime they aren’t answering emergency calls.

“A lot of roads are impassable. We’ve had to go as far as we can and walk, or hope one of the Humvees will make it,” said city paramedic District Chief Wayne Epps. “Either way, we’ll get there.”

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