Opinion: Treat EMT casualties as line-of-duty deaths

By Oren Barzilay

New York Daily News | May 11, 2020

In the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 virus, many thousands of New York City’s first responders have been exposed to the deadly contagion.

Our city’s FDNY EMTs and paramedics are mandated to enter the quarantined homes of people who are seriously ill, to provide medical care and, where needed, evacuation to hospitals. This is the job we trained for and the oath we took was to protect life.

We take our role very seriously. The intensive medical training we receive — some refer to us as New York City’s Street Doctors — enable our members to assess and determine the seriousness of a medical condition and act quickly and decisively in the best interest of the patient.

Without our members’ responses to tens of thousands of coronavirus medical emergencies each week, the death toll would likely be far greater.

Yet the toll is also mounting on our own workforce. Out of an insufficiently staffed 4,500 FDNY EMS members, more than 1,000 have contracted the virus or are being monitored for it. Since the outbreak reached our city, five of my members have lost their lives to this pandemic.

The FDNY clearly recognizes and acknowledges the dangers the members of EMS are exposed to. Yet the silence from City Hall is deafening.

We have asked that COVID-19 deaths be classified as Line of Duty fatalities, affording families both the recognition and benefits they deserve, and we have been told that request is stuck in the inbox of some bureaucrat in the city Law Department.

A line of duty death is when an emergency responder, in this case an EMS worker, dies as a direct result of an event that took place while they were performing their job. A firefighter who, God forbid, perishes in a burning building he or she was called to extinguish, is an example of a line of duty death. In this case, an emergency medical worker who contracts a deadly disease as a direct result of exposure while they are performing their job as required.

Each of these brave members of the FDNY have names. They leave behind grieving families and peers. Four of the five were among responders to the 9/11 attacks on our nation, with already compromised immune systems from their toxic exposure at the World Trade Center site. That did not stop them from their duties.

They include:

FDNY EMT Greg Hodge, who had 24 years on the job, serving in Harlem, the Bronx and then with the New York City Office of Emergency Management.

FDNY EMT John Redd, with 26 years, who served in Brooklyn and dispatcher who often was the soothing voice for 911 callers, providing medical instructions until help arrived.

FDNY EMT Idris Bey, a beloved and respected Brooklyn EMT and training instructor at the EMS academy, who served for 27 years.

FDNY Fire inspector Edward Mungin, an 8-year veteran who supervised our city fire inspectors, who checked buildings used citywide as shelters.

FDNY Deputy Chief Fire Inspector Syed Rahman, a 22-year veteran who oversaw that any building construction, demolition, and abatement work was performed up to critical city safety codes.

They lost their lives serving the people of New York.

Doesn’t our city owe their families recognition at this time of immense sorrow and grieving?

One of the most important obligations held by the United States Military to our brave soldiers, is that if they fall on the battlefield, their sacrifice for the nation is honored, and their families are treated with the utmost respect.

Mayor de Blasio, now is not the time to hide behind attorneys, red tape and bureaucracy. Nearly two months into this crisis, acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice that each of these FDNY EMS members and other city employees have made in the service to the people as we continue to battle this insidious virus that has attacked New York so viciously.

It is your duty as mayor to respect these precious lives.

Barzilay is president of FDNY EMS Local 2507, which represents New York City’s EMT’s, paramedics and fire inspectors