Heads Roll Following Blizzard Bungle: EMS Chief Demoted, Emergency Czar on Thin Ice

NY Daily News - January 06, 2011

by Alison Gendar, Jonathan Lemire and Erin Einhorn

Heads are starting to roll in the wake of last week's blizzard bungle.

The chief of the Emergency Medical Service was demoted on Wednesday night - and several sources say Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno is on thin ice.

The finger-pointing comes as the city assesses its storm response, which left streets unplowed - causing deadly 911 delays.

A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg denied Bruno faces the ax, but top administration sources say Hizzoner is furious with his emergency preparedness czar for failing to ring the alarm about the storm earlier.

Two sources said that the mayor hollered at Bruno so loudly during one meeting that the commissioner asked if he would be fired - and Bloomberg refused to answer.

Bruno, a former fire commissioner and state judge, was tapped by Bloomberg to run the Office of Emergency Management in 2004.

It was his job to ensure the city was ready for the storm and to oversee the city's response - coordinating agencies like Sanitation, Transportation, Police and Fire. He has been criticized for failing to call a snow emergency that would have gotten cars off the road and for a flatfooted reaction once the crisis became clear.

Bruno told the Daily News last week he didn't fully activate the emergency command center until 4 p.m. on Dec. 26 - hours after the snow started lashing New York. He declined to comment on Wednesday night about whether his job is in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, John Peruggia, who headed the EMS for six years, was stripped of his title partly because of a disastrous storm response that saw ambulances stuck in the snow and critically ill people waiting for help.

The storm wasn't the only reason for his demotion. FDNY sources say Peruggia is about to face charges from the city Conflicts of Interest Board for an inappropriate trip with a defibrillator vendor that does business with the city.

Peruggia is staying with the FDNY but will be replaced as head of the EMS by Abdo Nahmod, a 25-year veteran, officials said.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano is elevating the EMS chief from three to four stars - which Nahmod will have.

"Last week's blizzard presented tremendous challenges for the department that are currently being addressed with an eye toward improving performance going forward," Cassano said.

Another official on the hot seat - Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith - will testify about the storm at a City Council hearing next week. Goldsmith, who is in charge of snow clearing, was out of town when the storm hit.

Mayor Bloomberg, who often leaves town on weekends, hasn't said if he was here. He appeared to dodge the question yesterday, leaving a more than 30-hour hole in a time line of his whereabouts.

"Dec. 25 was Christmas. I started out ... at St. Patrick's midnight Mass, where all Jewish boys go," he said. "And then the next day it was dealing with the snowstorm, and you saw me at the press conference [on Dec. 26]."

With Adam Lisberg and Tina Moore