Pa. medic, volunteer firefighter, remembered as eager public servant
Penn Hills Paramedic Joshua Smith said Nicholas Theofilis would go on ride-alongs as a teen and shadow medical personnel
By Michael DiVittorio
The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
PITTSBURGH — Penn Hills resident Nicholas Theofilis dedicated his life to public service.
The Eagle Scout had dreams of working in the medical field, and while in high school, already had begun training as an emergency medical technician.
Those dreams were cut short when the 23-year-old paramedic died on Nov. 27 while on duty driving an ambulance in Pittsburgh.
While in high school, he was a member of Penn Hills High's Navy Junior ROTC program; he graduated in 2017.
Theofilis became a volunteer firefighter at the Rosedale Fire Department and showed an interest in his hometown ambulance company.
"He was one of the few people that were so interested he would show up here on a regular basis," said Penn Hills paramedic Joshua Smith. He recalled Theofilis going on ride-alongs as a teenager and shadowing medical personnel.
"He just kept pushing forward and forward and never looked back from there," Smith said.
Constantly working and learning, Theofilis became an EMT.
He started working part-time for Penn Hills EMS in January 2019.
He also worked for Oklahoma EMS in the Apollo area before he was hired full-time by White Oak EMS in March 2019.
"Nick was a very light-hearted guy, but had the ability to be professional and serious when he needed to be, which seems to be a good quality for everybody in this field," White Oak EMS Chief Paul Falavolito said. "Nick was one of the instrumental EMTs during the pandemic. When everything was just very bad with covid, Nick wasn't fazed by that. He didn't mind going out on those types of calls."
He continued his studies at the Penn State Fayette-Eberly Campus and eventually got his paramedic certification through the state Department of Health.
Theofilis left his left position in White Oak to become a Penn Hills paramedic this past June.
"I knew that he was leaving for a long time," Falavolito said. "He's a Penn Hills guy through and through. It was hard when he left us in May, but I knew that was coming, and I can't fault him for wanted to return to his home community. He loved White Oak. He loved our community. He loved our residents and those he worked with here. That's why he chose to work here part-time as well. ... He didn't want to shoulder the burden of feeling he abandoned us."
Smith said his friends at the Penn Hills station would help him prepare for the exams. He believes Theofilis' happiest day was becoming a certified paramedic.
"Everyone here was very impressed with him," Smith said. "Very mature beyond his years. ... We made sure he knew everything he needed to know."
Then came the Nov. 27 crash that that claimed his life.
Theofilis was driving an ambulance at the intersection of Fifth and Morewood avenues in Pittsburgh shortly after 11 p.m. Nov. 27. There was no patient at the time, but Theofilis had a front-seat passenger.
Penn Hills EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry said Theofilis died of blunt force trauma resulting in a traumatic cardiac arrest secondary to a motor vehicle accident.
Neither the passenger, whose name was not released, nor the driver of the other vehicle, were seriously hurt.
The crash remains under investigation.
Meanwhile, Fitzhenry tries to be strong for her department.
"To say Penn Hills EMS is devastated by this loss is an understatement," she said. "This community and the entire region has been very supportive of Penn Hills EMS in this time of tragedy. I want to thank public services in Pittsburgh for their prompt and thorough care of Nick. He had the best opportunity by the care that was given to him by the Pittsburgh EMS Division and UPMC Trauma Team. Even with the best care scenario he wasn't able to survive, but we are extremely grateful for the people who tried to save him."
Fitzhenry said it's the first line-of-duty death in her company's 48-year history and prays it will be the last.
"He has accomplished more in his 23 years on this earth than people three times his age have accomplished," Fitzhenry said. "Even in death, he's a hero. "He continued to think about mankind because he is an organ donor, and they were able to use him to save other people's lives. He was a good all-around kid."
Falavolito said he will remember Theofilis as a brave and outgoing man.
"It hurts," he said. "It hits deep and heavy."
A GoFundMe page was created to help the family with funeral expenses. It had raised more than $9,700 toward its $15,000 goal as of Dec. 1.
There have been multiple social media posts offering condolences and messages of support for his family and Theofilis' EMS departments. Others have commented on the official department pages.
"He's loved by many, and if you take a look at social media I don't think there's anybody that can say a bad word about the kid," Fitzhenry said. "He was a fine young man and certainly dedicated to making the community a better place."
Theofilis is survived by his parents, Peter and Lori Theofilis; brother, Max Theofilis; paternal grandmother, Angela "Yia Yia" Theofilis; and maternal grandmother, Delores Patrizi; numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins.
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