February 6, 2020

Busiest Year on Record: In 2019, FDNY’s EMT’s & Paramedics Responded to Over 1.5 Million Medical Emergencies, Still Face High Turnover & Vacancies

FDNY EMS Workers Testify on Low Pay, High Stress & Massive Job Turnover, Creating Dangers for New Yorkers who Rely on Them for Medical Treatment

FDNY Emergency Medical Technicians covered a lot of ground in 2019, responding to more than 1.5 million medical emergencies, a record in the history of the agency, even as job vacancies and massive turnover threaten to impact medical care.

Of those 1.531,870 medical calls, more than one-third were considered the highest level of life-threatening emergency, such as cardiac arrest, choking and loss of consciousness, requiring fast and very specialized treatment in a high-pressure timeframe.

In the closing days of January, high ranking FDNY officials, EMS workers and union leaders testified before the City Council about their dedication to protect lives, while expressing very serious concerns linked to the high stress environment, coupled with exceptionally low wages and the resulting high turnover in personnel.

An entry level FDNY EMT starts at $33,320 or about $16 per hour. This is roughly $1 higher than the current minimum wage! The salary of NYPD officers and FDNY firefighters, in contrast, starts at $45,000 and can more than double after five years on the job.

EMTs and Paramedics are also called upon to respond to other major emergencies including active shooter incidents, stabbings, hostage taking situations, Chemical, Biological, Radiological emergency events in addition to regular life-threatening emergencies like heart attacks, strokes, or drug overdoses.

Because of the high turnover caused by low wages, an estimated 65 percent of all FDNY EMS staff have less than 3 years on the job and 75% have less than 5 years.

The city pays to train and certify these uniformed workers and at the first opportunity they leave for similar jobs with private companies, other municipalities or different city agencies paying considerably more. City Council leaders admonished FDNY officials who testified that the Department was powerless to improve wages, something only the New York City Office of Labor Relations and the mayor had the authority over. Council members pressed for a commitment to give EMT’s wages commensurate with NYPD officers and FDNY Firefighters.

Michael MacNeil, President of the Boston Police Patrolman’s Association’s EMS Division testified that the EMT’s and Paramedics in that city, with a lower cost of living, lower call volume, and fraction of the population, earn only about 2% less than Boston police officers. In New York City, the wage gap is about 40 percent between police officers and EMS. He said, “we get inquiries from NYC EMT’s and Paramedics who can’t make ends meet here and want to come work in Boston. Our members work shoulder to shoulder in the most challenging of environments. Underpaying any of these first responders endangers all of them.”

Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS, Local 2507 said, “We have wonderful recruits who come here to start their medical careers and simply cannot afford to stay. They cannot afford the rent, taxes, cost of commuting on the lowest wage scale imaginable in the entire medical industry. It has unfortunately led to a treadmill-like employment churn, with 75% of our workforce with under 5 years’ experience and 65% with less than 3 years on the job.”

Mr. Barzilay added, “When it is your loved one unable to breath and requiring medical care now, most people would choose a paramedic or EMT with years of experience, not someone just out of the training academy. New York City leaders must put an end to this horrible brain drain that is clearly dangerous to human life.”

Council leaders felt it was not coincidental that the lower paid FDNY EMS Bureau has the largest number and percentage of women, as well as people of color. “Obviously, being underpaid is demoralizing to our members and causes them the additional stress of trying to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The long-term impact of underpayment is that it leads to an increased turnover of personnel,” says EMS Superior Officers Association of the FDNY President, Joseph Pataky.

“When EMS first responders are paid less than what it costs to live in the city they serve, it impacts the morale. It also causes massive turn over. Ironically, one of the reasons the deBlasio Administration says they can’t fix this problem is that it will cost too much,” says President of Local 3621 of DC 37 representing Uniformed EMS Officers, Vincent Variale. “However, the training and recruitment costs in bringing EMS first responders into the Department, only to have them leave in a year or two, is more expensive. What is the value of expertise, longevity and experience of EMS personnel responding to the public when they need life-saving services?”

In addition to responses to medical emergencies, EMS staff working with the Mobile CPR Training Unit trained more than 27,800 New Yorkers, including 18,000 students, to perform bystander CPR. Immediate bystander CPR, coupled with defibrillation within the first few minutes after sudden cardiac arrest, can greatly increase a victim’s chance of survival.

Contact: Butler Associates, 212-685-4600
Alyssa Cambria- ACambria@ButlerAssociates.com