By GINGER ADAMS OTIS NEW YORK DAILY NEWS MAR 23, 2020
Nearly 50 FDNY members have tested positive for coronavirus, the department told the Daily News Monday — a sharp increase from last week's numbers that comes amid an uptick in citywide 911 medical calls.
The Fire Department said it has 46 COVID-19 positive employees as of Monday, and that total includes firefighters, Emergency Medical Services workers and civilian staff at its Brooklyn headquarters.
While the department declined to give a specific breakdown by bureau, sources said there were likely at least 20 infected from EMS, which is handling the brunt of all the FDNY's 911 traffic. Internal FDNY documents obtained by The News show just how fast coronavirus has thinned the ranks of the frontline responders.
As of March 9, the FDNY only had 19 employees quarantined and only one of those was a known COVID-19 positive case, an EMS member who contracted it while off-duty.
A week later, by March 19, the FDNY was tracking 178 staffers, 125 of whom were firefighters and 49 were EMS. Another four were civilian workers, documents obtained by The News said.[More New York] Patients denied take-home doses at packed Brooklyn methadone clinic, sparking fears of coronavirus transmission »
The FDNY still only had 10 positive coronavirus cases. But by March 22, the number was up to 25 — and a day later it nearly doubled to 46, according to the FDNY's latest figures. At the same time, the 911 call volume started to spike, picking up significantly on Friday when Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo began to talk in earnest of a citywide shutdown.
On March 13, the FDNY completed 4,582 emergency calls, the FDNY said. By March 19, it completed nearly 300 more in the same 24-hour period — up to 4,850, the FDNY said. But the 911 system actually received nearly 6,000 calls on March 19, sources told The News — the kind of volume that normally only occurs on New Year's Day, which is traditionally the department's busiest period. By 4 p.m. this Monday, 911 had already logged nearly 4,000 calls, the FDNY said.
The strain of being on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic is particularly acute for the city's 4,500 EMS workers, who have been operating under state of emergency protocols for the better part of two weeks and are already reporting shortages of N95 masks and other personal protection equipment.
The high demand means canceled vacation time and days off for the city's Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics, who are now dealing with mandated overtime shifts — as many as four and five a week — as the department struggles to keep pace.
"Being a paramedic in this pandemic makes a tough job even tougher, because you know the risks involved," said one veteran FDNY paramedic who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized by the department to speak to the press.
"Walking into the station and being told to use a single mask for the entire tour is just not very comforting" he added.
Medically-trained firefighters are also dispatched to help ease the EMS load, but in three specific instances recently — all of which are being investigated, according to the FDNY — tensions arose when firefighters, wary of getting too close to fever and cough patients, left EMS to handle the patients, sources said.
"Every day we hear just how bad this pandemic is and the protection to the first responders is so limited," said the Brooklyn paramedic.
Ginger Adams Otis
Ginger Adams Otis joined the NY Daily News in 2012 and worked on the rewrite desk as well as special investigations and assignments before moving on to head the paper's "On the Job" beat, as both a columnist and reporter.