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  • Einstein security officer's calm approach saved suicidal man

    Published: 11/07/2013


    Venus Powell-Uzzell was wearing a button with the photo of a former co-worker - a father who lost his life jumping into Wissahickon Creek to try to save his son - when she helped save another man's life in September.

    It was a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 15, shortly before 2 p.m. Powell-Uzzell, a security officer at Einstein Medical Center in Olney, was at the information desk in the hospital's main building when she got a call about a man on the roof of the seven-story garage.

    Powell-Uzzell, 37, who has worked at Einstein for five years, was the first - and for an incredibly long 10 minutes, the only - officer on the scene. Her role was overlooked immediately after the incident, and now her superiors are lobbying for recognition for her valor.

    When she got to the garage, Powell-Uzzell saw a 37-year-old man who had climbed over a steel railing.

    "He was on the ledge, with his feet hanging off," she said. "He immediately told me to stop and not come any closer."

    He told her that he had been hurt in a military helicopter crash and could no longer bear living with the pain.

    Powell-Uzzell and other Einstein officers had recently attended a funeral service for Pete Luciano and his son, Jordan, and they were wearing buttons with their photos on them. Luciano, 41, had jumped into Wissahickon Creek to try to save Jordan, 13.

    She pulled the button away from her shirt and asked the man to look at the photos. "I tried to tell him that Pete didn't have a choice on whether to live or die, but that he had a choice," she said. "He could choose to live."

    Powell-Uzzell, a former corrections officer, had some training in hostage negotiations. But she wasn't sure what to do with a person threatening to jump to his death. "I tried to warm up to him, to see what was a green light to say and what not to say."

    She asked if he had family. But she could see from his reaction he didn't want to talk about his family. So she talked about hers.

    That day was her husband's birthday.

    "I asked him: 'Do you want this to be something I remember for the rest of my life on his birthday?' He told me to tell my husband 'Happy Birthday.' I said, 'You can tell him yourself.' "

    She was alone with the man for 10 minutes, trying to calm him down before Police Lt. Anthony Ginaldi arrived and continued to negotiate with the man.

    Powell-Uzzell's supervisor, Russell Jones, the network director for protective services, said he was home because it was Sunday. He was worried, he said, until he learned that Powell-Uzzell was on the scene.

    "When I saw her name [on his cellphone as responding], I felt a different level of ease," Jones said, adding that she has a "humanistic approach to life."

    "I knew she could handle a delicate situation. I know her personality, her passion and empathy for our patients and our visitors."

    Later, Jones went to the office and saw silent video surveillance of her interaction with the man. "I said, 'Wow that's perfect.' "

    "You could tell by her body language, her approach and his reaction to her . . . he [the suicidal man] started to cry. I'm telling you, it was magical."

    Jones has nominated Powell-Uzzell for awards of valor in several professional security organizations, local and national.

    Jones then contacted the 35th Police District and urged its commanders to watch the video. The police have also nominated her for a civilian award, Jones said.

    He said Ginaldi, who spoke with the man until he stepped back from the ledge, certainly deserves recognition. But Jones said he thought Powell-Uzzell also deserved attention: "In my mind, she set the stage and she connected to him. " 

    STORY UPDATE: Venus is receiving an award for her actions from the American Society for Industrial Security and an award from the Hospital Fire Marshals Association.

  • Communications Team