Gratitude poured in from around the world as New York EMS crews answered a record number of calls for help during the coronavirus pandemic. But because of the nature of the public health crisis that made FDNY EMS crews a symbol of New Yorkers' perseverance, city plans to celebrate those men and women for National EMS week, which kicks off Sunday, will be virtual. "I think every New Yorker — and those around the world — have witnessed the heroic efforts of our members during this pandemic and realized why they are rightfully known as 'the Best' in our city," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Saturday.
"The training, professionalism, and unwavering dedication to care for their patients have been on display each and every day as they've shouldered the highest call volume in our department's history," Nigro said. "I'm incredibly proud of their remarkable service." The pandemic has shelved traditional EMS week events, including the Second Chance Breakfast, where people can thank paramedics and emergency medical technicians who saved their lives, and the citywide EMS skills competition.
"We understand that social distancing is vital to the success of battling and eliminating COVID-19," said Oren Barzilay, president of the FDNY EMS union, Local 2507. "Although we won't be able to celebrate as we're used to, this war zone environment we all stood in front of will never be forgotten." The annual FDNY poster recognizing the 4,400 members of EMS will still go up on virtual kiosks across the city, online and at the NYC Fire Museum on Spring St. in Soho.
The poster, titled "Ready Today, Preparing for Tomorrow," will feature seven EMS members as they responded to COVID-19 calls throughout the five boroughs.
Throughout the week, the FDNY will spotlight each member on the poster on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The EMTs and medics will talk about their experiences fighting the pandemic and why they wanted to first responders.The history of city EMS, which became part of the Fire Department in 1996, will also be shared on social media, by showing off some the items on display at the NYC EMS Museum at the EMS academy at Fort Totten in Queens.
Four members of EMS have died from coronavirus, and hundreds were sickened. On March 30, during the height of the pandemic, EMTs and paramedics responded to a record 6,500 calls — a typical day brings about 4,000, authorities said. But even before the coronavirus outbreak, FDNY EMS handled an unprecedented amount of 911 calls. In 2019, crews handled 1,531,870 medical emergencies – 2,000 more than the year before.
Despite the tremendous workload, the members of EMS are lowest paid first responders. EMT base salaries start around $30,000 a year and cap at $51,000 after five years. Highly trained paramedics start at $45,000, and their pay peaks at $64,000 in their fifth year. By comparison, firefighters make about $110,000 after five years on the job. Police officers are similarly compensated, as are correction officers and sanitation workers. All of them enjoy unlimited sick leave, EMS does not. Barzilay said his members will miss the award ceremonies and station barbecues normally held during EMS week, but they've witnessed first hand why the city's continued lockdown is necessary.
"There will come a time at which we will celebrate National EMS Week again," he said.