A dozen FDNY EMTs and paramedics permanently disabled and knocked off payroll after suffering COVID-19: union

By Thomas Tracy | January 9, 2022

A dozen New York City lifesavers were so sickened by COVID-19 they can’t do their jobs — and now they’re in desperate need of a lifeline, the Daily News has learned.

The sickened FDNY emergency medical technicians and paramedics suffered extensive damage to their lungs and hearts after contracting coronavirus at the start of the pandemic and have been out of work for nearly two years.

Since EMS employees do not have unlimited paid sick leave like firefighters and police officers, some of the long-haul COVID sufferers have already exhausted their 18 months of sick leave and are no longer being paid, union officials said.

“When their line-of-duty injury clock ran out, they fell off payroll,” Oren Barzilay, the president of Local 2507 told The News. The dozen EMS members disabled by the disease were revealed following an internal survey of union members, he said.

“It’s disheartening that the city is not doing much to help them. We don’t even know if they will be eligible for workman’s compensation because workman’s comp is denying these claims as well.

“We were exposed to COVID more than anybody else in society,” Barzilay added. “This needs to be addressed, just like 9/11 illness. I just hope we don’t have to wait 20 years for these benefits to kick in.”

Some of the disabled COVID-19 sufferers are receiving grants from the FDNY Honor Emergency Fund to cover their monthly expenses, but that can only last for so long.

“We have one guy who is 28, and he now has the heart function of an 80-year-old,” said Gary Smiley, a former city paramedic and World Trade Center liaison for Local 2507 who is helping the long haulers. “I have another member whose lung function is so bad that he can’t catch his breath walking from his car to headquarters.”

Some of the long haulers are so badly off they’re applying for a tax-free three-quarters disability pension from the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, commonly known as NYCERS.

But their push for a NYCERS pension will be an uphill battle.

“At this time, there is no presumptive disability law regarding COVID,” said a NYCERS spokeswoman.

In other words, there’s no automatic pension for EMTs and paramedics who contracted COVID-19 on the job.

There’s also no state law indicating that if a first responder caught the virus, they probably caught it while working.

“We tried to pass that legislation last year, but the state didn’t move on it, thinking it would be too expensive,” Barzilay said.

NYCERS will still process “any properly filed disability application, including where an applicant claims COVID as a cause of the disabling condition,” the spokeswoman said.

An FDNY official said there are 10 — not 12 — EMS members unable to work after being stricken with COVID-19. All of them are currently reviewing their retirement options.

It’s not immediately clear how many city firefighters are in the same situation, but they can remain on sick leave indefinitely.

Firefighters can also easily apply for a disability pension through the lung bill, which considers reduced lung function — a common side effect of the virus — as an on-the-job injury for a firefighter, another FDNY official said. The lung bill does not apply to EMS members.

“Our members bravely showed up for New York City during the worst of times, through the height of the pandemic and beyond,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “We hope the most needy among them are given the care and compensation they rightly deserve.”

James McCarthy, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said hundreds of his members have been sickened by coronavirus.

“A bunch of them have been out since March of 2020,” McCarthy said. “It’s actually easier to count the people who haven’t had it.”