Pay EMTs what they deserve: End the indefensible disparities between these and other first responders

New York Daily News


February 22, 2020

Among their many responsibilities, New York City’s uniformed first responders rescue people in perilous, life-threatening situations while maintaining public order. The work of New York City police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) workers involve much of the same mission: protect and serve the people of our great city when they are most vulnerable.

Despite that shared mission, New York City’s EMS workers are paid at staggeringly lower rates compared to their peer emergency responders in New York City and across the nation.

The starting salary for a New York City cop is $42,500, and for a New York City firefighter, it’s $45,196. But medically-trained New York City EMS workers who save the lives of distressed New Yorkers day in and day out, make only $33,320 to start — the equivalent of around just $16 per hour. That is not, by any means, a livable wage in New York City.

It gets worse. Our police officers and firefighters can potentially see their salaries more than double after five years on the job, but an FDNY EMS responder still earns just $47,685 after half-a-decade on the job.

The prospect of receiving a less than $7 per hour raise is not enough of an incentive to keep workers on the job, especially as they face the incredible stress, pressure and responsibility that comes with this role.

This tremendous wage gap sends a clear message to rank-and-file EMS, most of whom are women and people of color, that they are second-class citizens in the eyes of our city.

FDNY’s EMS, the Big Apple’s “street doctors,” proved just how vital they were on each and every one of the 1,531,870 emergency medical calls placed in 2019 — a record high and a significant increase over those reported in 2018. It just does not, apparently, merit wage equity.

Other cities, like Boston and Philadelphia, pay their EMS first responders significantly more than New York City does, even though their populations are much smaller, and the number of emergency calls are far fewer. In Boston, emergency medical responders are paid only 2% less than members of the Boston Police Department.

The starting salary for a rookie EMS worker in Boston is $57,000, nearly $24,000 higher than a first-year EMS worker in New York City. After five years of field medical experience, EMS rookies in Boston still make some $10,000 more than five-year veteran FDNY EMS workers make, illustrating there is no career future in staying with the department, which has led to a mass exodus of qualified and certified medical professionals.

Because of this attrition, 65% of the force has less than three years on the job and 75% of the workforce has less than five years on the job. So, it’s no wonder some EMS responders and paramedics are being forced to eat three meals a day behind the wheel of their ambulance just to keep up with the high volume of emergency calls and staffing shortages.

The city’s response to this crisis, following a City Council hearing on the topic last month, was a suggestion to expand training programs to increase the workforce.

We believe this to be wholly insufficient. Why increase the number of jobs for city employees who can’t break away from the poverty line? So many of these workers are single mothers trying to feed their children on one paycheck without any SNAP benefits.

It would be far better to improve the compensation and the working conditions of those who hold these critical jobs.

Police officers, firefighters and EMS workers may have different titles and responsibilities, but they are all first responders who risk their lives daily to protect our lives and the lives of their fellow first responders.

The case for pay parity is overwhelming. We need to deliver it and we need to deliver it now.