By BOB HENNELLY MARCH 20, 2020
Unions representing Emergency Medical Service workers March 17 gained assurances from the city that public schools would be used to offer child-care services, even as they continued to press for additional personal protective equipment, particularly a brand of respirators that fully cover their faces. According to the latest Fire Department information, 14 members of the department had tested positive for the coronavirus. It offered no breakdown as to how many of those afflicted were EMS personnel, firefighters or civilian employees.
There were 100 members of the department self-quarantined, with no hospitalizations, and all of city firehouses and EMS stations remained open. The FDNY reports that since the end of January, when it initiated a COVID19 protocol to encourage callers looking for medical assistance to disclose whether they had a cough or fever, it had gotten 219,325 calls, a five-percent increase over the same period last year. The department recorded 27,970 respiratory complaints, a 1.7-percent decline from a year ago. A spokesman said that the latest statistics had to be considered in the context that the department has had a steady increase in medical calls in recent years.
Oren Barzilay, president of District Council 37 Local 2507, which represents EMTs and Paramedics, said in a phone interview, that uncertainty about child-care "puts a lot of burden on our members who are single parents" due to recent changes in their schedules to deal with the pandemic. The Daily News reported later that day that the Department of Education starting March 23 will use 100 school buildings as child-care centers for health-care and transit workers and first-responders, while those employees infants and toddlers will be placed in established centers. Assignments will be made by neighborhood, and the centers will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. On that date, a "remote digital learning" option will be available to older students who can stay at home.
Local 2507 and DC 37 Local 3621, which represents officers, were surveying members about their child-care needs. "This is a big deal for us because 30 percent of our members are single mothers," said Local 3621 President Vincent Variale. "And the second-most-important thing for us is the on-the-job safety of our members, because it is kind of hard to get some of them equipment, specifically respirators, the N95 masks, that covers your nose and mouth," Mr. Barzilay said.
In response to a query on the issues, the FDNY said it was "monitoring the burn rate of masks and PPE [personal protection equipment]. "Members of EMS have said the equipment "is being guarded like it was Fort Knox." By March 19 an FDNY spokesman said that any member of EMS who wanted an additional mask could get one. "The current policy of issuing three per tour is merely to insure the existing inventory is properly managed," he said. Mr.Barzilay said that his members were spending a lot of time answering questions from the public about protecting themselves. "You will be out getting lunch and people come up to our members and ask us what should they do," he said. "And we tell them to wash their hands before they eat their food, be mindful when they touch door handles, and just basically be sanitary."
He said that his members had not yet gotten the level of public support they did following the World Trade Center attacks. "During 9/11, if you had anything on that identified you as a civil servant people would always have a positive comment for you, even if you were just wearing an FDNY tee-shirt or an FDNY hat," he said. The union leader continued, "Right now we try and provide that kind of support amongst ourselves. But when you have the backing of the people it makes us as civil servants realize how much we are appreciated...it is exactly at times like this that we can all rise up and shine." Mr. Variale maintains that Mayor de Blasio "still hasn't acknowledged the essential work being done by the EMS workforce that's at the front lines of this pandemic."
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.