Second 911 supervisor resigns

The emergency services director was about to recommend her firing in a choking case.

Published April 17, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - A second supervisor who failed to assist a 911 dispatcher last month while a woman choked to death resigned on Monday.

Maureen Thomas was the lead communications officer on duty March 24 when a man called 911 because his girlfriend was choking on a piece of steak.

The dispatcher who answered the call, Jennie Montanino, didn't have the medical training to tell the man how to do the Heimlich maneuver, so she asked for a trained supervisor to help - three times.

According to a letter Montanino later wrote her supervisor, Thomas replied, "I am not getting on."

In a written response about the incident, Thomas said she was handling a call about a utility problem. She said she did not remember being asked for help or refusing to give it.

That wasn't good enough for the county's emergency services director, Anthony Lopinto.

"We have concluded that you had a moral, ethical, professional and policy driven obligation to act," he wrote in an April 10 letter to Thomas. "The fact that your rank constitutes a position of second-in-command within the E-911 Center ... further magnifies your obligation greatly. Unfortunately, you failed to do so."

Lopinto recommended firing Thomas for "disregarding job duties by loafing or neglect of work during work hours," among other offenses.

Before Lopinto could finish his report on Thomas' role in the 911 call, Thomas submitted a two-sentence resignation letter Monday. Her resignation is effective April 24, the day before she planned to return from sick leave.

"This is bittersweet since I have no choice in this matter," Thomas, 56, wrote in cursive on lined notebook paper.

She declined to discuss the incident Monday with the Pasco Times, saying, "I didn't have any involvement in that phone call."

Thomas is the second supervisor to leave in the aftermath of the highly publicized 911 call, which ended in the death of Nancy McGhee, 37, of Land O'Lakes.

David Cook, 58, the dispatch supervisor on duty that night, took early retirement earlier this month.

According to written accounts from several coworkers, Cook also refused initially to get on the phone with a "hysterical caller." Finally, seven minutes after Chris Cooper called 911, Cook got on the line to provide instructions on the Heimlich maneuver.

After Cook heard that McGhee died, several co-workers heard Cook say, "I guess she bit off a little more than she could chew."

Cook, who had been with county dispatch for 18 years, had mixed reviews on his performance evaluations. Last month, he received a verbal warning for falling asleep twice during a shift.

Thomas was hired in 1993 as a dispatcher. She was promoted to lead communications officer in 2002. During her tenure, Thomas received mostly positive evaluations.

Both Thomas and Cook leave the job with small payouts for unused sick and vacation time. Cook received about $3,645 while Thomas received about $1,906, county spokesman Eric Keaton said. They would have received that money regardless of whether they had quit or been fired, Keaton said.

The incident has drawn attention to Pasco's policy of allowing new dispatchers to work for up to a year before getting certified in emergency medical dispatch, or EMD. The policy means untrained dispatchers like Montanino must ask for a trained person to get on the line for medical emergencies.

That makes the new hires reliant on their supervisors for help, dispatcher Judie Faille wrote in a memo about the incident.

"I have ... had a couple instances where I requested EMD assistance from ... Thomas and her response was that she couldn't get on right now," Faille wrote. "Thomas has always assisted me with EMD just not always instantaneously."

County officials are discussing the creation of an independent ad hoc committee to review the 911 call center's operations, Keaton said.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at 727 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com