Increase in calls, lack of staffing blamed
By Duncan Freeman | Friday, February 17, 2023
FDNY EMTs and paramedics took 35 more seconds to travel to the scene of medical emergencies during the four-month period ending in October that they did a year earlier, according to the recently released Mayor’s Preliminary Management Report.
The average response time to medical emergencies for ambulances, when counting dispatch and travel time, was seven minutes and 55 seconds during the four-month period, exactly a minute longer than the target set for the current fiscal year.
“It should be very concerning to the public that these numbers have gone up,” said Oren Barzilay, the president of District Council 37 Local 2507, which represents EMTs and paramedics. “Every second counts when it comes to medical emergencies.” The city blamed the worsening response times on the increased call volume that EMTs, paramedics and FDNY dispatchers contended with. “The overall incidence of life-threatening medical emergencies increased by ten percent,” the report reads, which also blames worsening traffic for the increase.
The report counted 209,502 life threatening medical emergency incidents from July through October last year, about 20,000 more than during the same period the year prior.
‘We are not sufficiently staffed’
Anthony Almojera, a lieutenant paramedic and vice president of Local 2507, said that an increased number of calls are partly to blame for the slower response times, but also noted that his colleagues don’t have enough staff or equipment to take on the increased workload. “Since the pandemic began, we’ve averaged more than 4,000 calls each day but we have not increased the number of ambulances or staffing,” Almojera said in an interview.
EMTs and paramedics typically responded to between 3,000 and 3,500 calls a day prior to the pandemic, according to Almojera. On a recent otherwise “normal Wednesday,” there were more than 5,800 calls to respond to across the city.
Staffing is so low and there are so many emergencies to respond to that Almojera, who is based near Sunset Park in Brooklyn, is sometimes called to respond to emergencies in East New York, a trek that can 40 minutes for an average commuter.
“We are not sufficiently staffed to handle this increased volume,” said Barzilay, who noted that the FDNY currently staffed about 4,000 EMTs and paramedics. The department graduated 135 EMTs and paramedics in January but the union leader said that those recruits can’t make up the current wave of between five and 10 resignations each week, the vast majority attributable to stress, burnout or frustration over wages.
Almojera believes that providing EMTs and paramedics with mental health counseling — and better pay — could help stem the tide of resignations. “You have to invest more in EMS,” he said. “If you fix the pay structure it would help us stay in our positions.”
Competition with fire
EMS unions including Local 2507 are currently suing the FDNY on behalf of their members over pay discrimination after the federal government found that the department has discriminated against EMTs and paramedics on the basis of both race and sex. According to the suit, an entry-level EMT makes $39,3868 a year while firefighters start at $43,904. After five years, EMT pay increases to $59,534 while for firefighters it goes to $85,292.
Barzilay also expects that many of his members will take the promotion to firefighter exam that will be administered in 2024, the first time it’s being offered since 2019. It is common practice for those working on the EMS side of the FDNY to take and pass this exam and Barzilay fears that as many as 1,000 EMS workers could make the switch.
He also says that he expects around 20 fewer ambulances to be in service by the summer given the FDNY’s continuing shortage of mechanics and the overuse that ambulances are currently in service given the high call volume.
“We are constantly bleeding both equipment and people,” Barzilay said. “If you pull ambulances away from communities, they will be adversely affected.”