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Onetime hero wants job back

In June last year, 911 dispatcher Troy Perez was a hero. He helped a woman save her mother's life by instructing her over the telephone how to perform CPR. His supervisors commended him. He was written up in the newspaper. Today, Perez is fighting to get his job back. In June this year, Perez was fired for what the city said was incompetence. A civil service hearing on his firing is set for Monday.

Perez thinks he was fired unfairly because his supervisors took into account only things they thought he did wrong and ignored the things he did well, such as the CPR call.

"I'm damned if I do, and I'm damned if I don't," he said.

Tom Gonzalez, city labor attorney, said Perez's employers took into account his efforts in saving the woman's life. But Gonzalez added that the rest of Perez's employment record was dismal.

"If he had not done that wonderful thing, he would have been gone way before this," Gonzalez said. "That one event, no matter how good, is not enough to outweigh a year's worth of bad."

Gonzalez said that Perez was often late for work and that he erred on another emergency call, one in which a man later died.

Perez, 23, began his career with the Tampa Fire Department in October 1988. As a communications technician, it was his duty to receive emergency calls and notify the proper emergency rescue units of the incidents and the addresses.

He was praised publicly for his part in helping to prolong the life of Willie Herman, an 85-year-old Tampa woman. Mrs. Herman's daughter, Lena Hatcher, called 911 to report that her mother was not breathing.

Perez calmed a hysterical Ms. Hatcher, and step by step explained to her how to do CPR. Within minutes Mrs. Herman was breathing again, although she died later that night after a long bout with cancer.

Though he was praised for his handling of the CPR call, Perez has been cited for unsatisfactory work. One case in particular led to his suspension for 10 days for incorrectly handling a March 1990 call.

In that case, relatives of 85-year-old Luis Garcia of Tampa, called the Tampa Police Department to report that he had fallen from a step-ladder.

A transcript of that conversation indicates that Tampa Police called 911 dispatch and Perez took the call. The Tampa Police dispatcher says only that a man had fallen and gives the address. It is not clear whether the police dispatcher had more information.

Perez then dispatched what is referred to as a basic life-support ambulance, instead of an advanced life-support ambulance used in life-threatening situations. His supervisors contend he should have asked more questions about the situation before determining what type of unit to send. In this case, they said, Perez should have sent the advanced support unit.

Garcia died three days later from brain damage caused because his respiratory system was without oxygen for so long, his nephew Marcelo Maseda said Wednesday.

Perez's personnel file also indicates he was suspended three other times because he was repeatedly late for work.

Perez said Wednesday that last summer he attempted suicide and spent nearly a month in a psychiatric hospital. He said he was depressed because of family problems.

From that point on, Perez argued, his supervisors watched for any mistakes he made, building a case for firing.

His supervisors refused to comment on Perez's contentions.

"They didn't look at my overall performance," Perez said. "Let's put it this way: Since that time, they have really pegged me."