Slain Paramedic, ‘Mother of the Station,’ Was Near Retirement

Author: Yuvi October 1, 2022

Slain Paramedic, 'Mother of the Station,' Was Near Retirement

In her nearly quarter-century with New York City’s Emergency Medical Service, Lt. Alison Russo-Elling, 61, was on intimate terms with risk.

Responding by ambulance to a constant cascade of 911 calls, her public service ranged from racing to Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, to working exhausting tours during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020 when she and her colleagues braved exposure while taking thousands of New Yorkers a day to hospitals.

After nearly 25 harrowing years as a first-responder, Lieutenant Russo-Elling was serving the tail end of her career in a quiet section of Astoria, Queens, months away from the retirement she would be entitled to at 62.

But on Thursday, Lieutenant Russo-Elling was stabbed to death in a seemingly random act of violence during an unguarded moment. She was walking a half block from the station house where she was regarded as a den mother and a rock of comfort and advice for her younger colleagues.

Lt. Alison Russo-Elling was a source of solace for her younger colleagues. Credit…New York City Fire Department

A local resident, Peter Zisopoulous, 34, ran up to Ms. Russo-Elling, slammed her to the ground, and began relentlessly stabbing her, the police said.

“She responded to 9/11 and worked through Covid — that alone was hell,” said Vincent Variele, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union. “And to die so tragically on a street corner,” he added, his voice trailing off.

An onlooker chased Mr. Zisopoulos to his nearby building, where he barricaded himself in his third-floor apartment but was ultimately coaxed out and arrested. Police announced early Friday morning that he had been charged with murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

In Astoria, Lieutenant Russo-Elling was “the mother of the station,” a figure to whom the younger paramedics turned with questions, problems or complaints, said a paramedic colleague, Maddy Higuleros.

“We all know Alison,” Ms. Higuleros said. “She made sure everyone was going home safe.”

Friday, shortly after purple-and-black bunting was draped outside the EMS station in Astoria, a colleague there, Chief Lillian Bonsignore called her death “a senseless and heinous and brutal murder” that “has cut deep into our souls and has rippled to the first-responder communities across the nation.”

Lieutenant Russo-Elling, who was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Queens hospital, was the 1,158th member of New York’s Fire Department to die in the line of duty.

She was the second member of EMS in the past 5 years, officials said; Yadira Arroyo, 44, was killed in 2017 in the Bronx when a man commandeered her ambulance and crushed her beneath its wheels.

They were both women and both mothers, noted Chief Bonsignore, who called Lieutenant Russo-Elling “a civil servant who dedicated her life to caring for the people of this city. For 25 years she did just that.”

With retirement almost in hand, “in one moment a lifetime of work came crashing to an end,” Chief Bonsignore added.

Mr. Varielie said Lieutenant Russo-Elling was one of the oldest members of the city’s EMS ranks, and had earned commendations and medals for service and bravery, including for her work on 9/11.

He said that when he spoke to her recently, “I asked her, ‘When are you going to retire?’ and she said, ‘Soon, soon.’ She was looking forward to spending time with her family.”

It was still unclear why Mr. Zisopoulos attacked Lieutenant Russo-Elling, but Mr. Variele said attacks on EMTs are common, especially when treating and transporting volatile patients.

“We’re completely unarmed, and we’re there to help and save lives, but some people see a uniform and they think the person is some authority, so they go after them,” said Mr. Variele.

For Ms. Russo-Elling’s colleagues, the crime hit especially hard, given the benevolent role she played in the station house.

Deputy Chief Gregg Brady who performed rescues with Lieutenant Russo-Elling, said, “She wore her heart on her sleeve and would give you the shirt off her back.”

She loved being a paramedic so much that while off-duty, she volunteered at her local ambulance corps on Long Island, he said. Ms. Russo-Elling had volunteered for the past three decades with the Huntington Community First Aid squad on Long Island, as a day captain and in other roles.

Chelsia Rose Marcius, Gina Heeb, and Tea Arielle contributed reporting.

1 October, 2022, 2:39 am

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