By OREN BARZILAY
August 21, 2020
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It’s strange to think we are entering the ninth month of the year and our city’s seventh month of the pandemic. Many New Yorkers have spent a majority of the last six months working from home, if possible, and acting as teachers to help support their children during the difficulties of remote learning, caring for their families.
During that same time, New York City’s FDNY Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals were on the streets of our city every single day, 24/7, responding to the health needs of residents in crisis, as we stared down a tsunami of coronavirus emergencies.
Call volumes for these life and death emergencies spiked an unprecedented 50%, but our loyal and professional FDNY paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTS), together with our 911 dispatchers, kept the wheels from literally falling off the ambulance. Without them, the consequences of COVID-19 could have been much more fatal for New Yorkers.
Saving lives is no easy task, and our emergency responders faced serious obstacles, from overcrowding in hospitals to continuously changing safety standards from the Department of Health and a lack of personal protective equipment.
For our members, the coronavirus pandemic, especially at its peak, was like fighting a war. Not even the terror attacks of 9/11 compared to the ongoing months of stress and strain on our EMTs and paramedics and their families.
Our union had more than 1,500 members test positive for the virus, and an equal number forced into quarantine. Six sadly died of the coronavirus, and three ended their lives from the unbearable stress.
Yet to this day, the leadership of the city has done little to nothing to help front-line medical first responders with counseling to help address the aftereffects of constantly responding to save the lives of those on death’s door.
We answered hundreds of thousands of emergency calls, and now we ask City Hall to use some compassion and hear our emergency call now. Our members are experiencing serious PTSD, from all they endured.
In fact, Wednesday Mayor de Blasio threatened us with mass layoffs. This despite the fact that everyone knows we’ve been chronically underpaid for years.
The members of the FDNY EMS service need and deserve the city’s help. That includes immediate and urgent mental health service. It also includes lifting them out of the shadow of minimum wage and the off the poverty line.
These remarkable and dedicated first responders should be compensated fairly for the dangerous, essential and highly skilled medical work they do. To be paid 40% less than many of our city’s other first responders is an indignity to the mostly minority workforce at the FDNY EMS.
Starting FDNY EMS workers make barely $2 above the city’s $15 minimum wage. The message that sends is that we are mere spare parts, not as important as others, despite the health risks and disease we regularly face. This is a workforce that can’t truly afford to live in the city it protects.
Adding insult to injury, ambulance crews that came to New York as back up under a contract with FEMA were paid 50% more per hour than our younger FDNY EMS members, and they got to be “on the clock” 24/7 for showing up and doing their important part.
We know budgets are tight. We know times are tough. But that’s no excuse to hang out to dry an essential workforce that saves lives by the thousands.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York lost too many lives. Experts say the second wave of the virus could be around the corner. New York City needs to step up. They need to recognize the critical work its EMS first responders do.
Mr. Mayor and the City Council, we had New York’s back in its time of greatest need. Will you do the same for us today?
Barzilay is president of FDNY EMS Local 2507, which represents New York City’s EMT’s, paramedics and fire inspectors