NYC Council committee wants more pay for EMS, but FDNY commissioner says his hands are tied

By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News | March 19, 2021

A city council panel overseeing the FDNY budget favors higher pay for Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics, but Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Friday the buck doesn’t stop with him — it falls to city and union negotiators to hash it out at the bargaining table.

During a virtual hearing of the council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, Nigro agreed EMS members ought to be better compensated, but said he’s not in charge of approving pay hikes.

“I personally believe that they are not compensated as they should,” Nigro said about EMS receiving better wages. “But we don’t control the process. The negotiations are going on now with union leadership and we wish them well.”

“We realize they are hard-working dedicated people who do not receive the compensation they should for this work,” Nigro said.

Councilman Joseph Borelli, the committee chairman, said he’d like to see the city’s EMTs and paramedics get a bump in pay since their current salary pales in comparison to those in nearby cities.

“Adjacent cities like Philadelphia have starting salaries of $57,000. That’s 35% more than an FDNY EMT’s starting salary,” Borelli (R-Staten Island) said about the wage discrepancy. “What can we do to make this happen?”

The starting salary for an EMT is $35,254; it can go up to $50,000 in five years. An FDNY member after five years on the job can make more than $100,000 annually with overtime and holiday pay.

Oren Barzilay, president of EMS union local 2507, refuted Nigro’s assessment of the pay situation.

“Every so often we hear the mayor’s office and the department use the excuse that our wages are so far apart because of collective bargaining, making it seem that we don’t know how to bargain for our members or suggesting that we don’t know how to bargain,” Barzilay told the committee. “The fact is, it’s the city that’s fighting us back. It’s the city that pushes back.”

“It doesn’t matter how many times we demand equality and fairness, we’re not being heard,” he said. “We need to stop with this collective bargaining excuse for the disparity of pay.”

Nigro repeatedly hailed EMS at the committee hearing, particularly over the last year for being the “first people in the city to confront” the COVID-19 virus.

During the height of the pandemic, EMS members had the “busiest days in their history” responding to 6,500 medical emergencies a day, Nigro said.

“When confronted with one of the most challenging public health emergencies, they met the challenge head on,” the commissioner said.

Nigro added the department has opened up five vaccination sites across the city and have given out 60,000 COVID-19 vaccinations as of Wednesday. The vaccinations include 13,500 first doses to FDNY members and 9,500 second doses.

An additional 25,000 first doses and 12,000 second doses have been given to eligible employees of other city agencies, Nigro said.

To date, 14 FDNY members have died of COVID-related issues during the pandemic, Nigro said.