For city’s EMS personnel, coronavirus outbreak is ‘10 times worse than 9/11’

Photo by Todd Maisel


Members of the FDNY EMS Fund are requesting donations to support their members as the number of emergency calls in the city eclipses those during 9/11.

“This is like 9/11 happening every single day, with a bit of Hurricane Sandy thrown in,” said Lt. Vinny Variale, a 25-year FDNY EMS veteran who is president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union.

For the city’s EMS personnel, who are receiving about 7,000 calls each day, compared to about 4,500 after 9/11, the situation is growing dire as protective equipment like masks and gloves are rationed and exhausted paramedics work 16-hour days regularly.

Due to limited supplies of PPE, paramedics are being instructed to wear masks only on high-risk calls where a person is confirmed to have respiratory issues and possible COVID-19 infection, Variale said.

“We believe that’s incorrect, that puts our members in danger,” said Variale, who tested positive for COVID-19 on March 23 with fever, coughing and trouble breathing. Friday was Variale’s last day in quarantine for the disease.

Variale estimates that 23 percent of the department’s paramedics are out sick, many with COVID-19, and some of the rest are choosing to sleep in their cars between shifts to avoid the risk of infecting their families. This is aggravating a shortage of staff that existed before the outbreak even started, Variale said.

Variale says that many paramedics who have been sick have been quarantining for seven to eight days, returning to work as symptoms disappear, which he thinks could be unsafe.

The CDC recommends that those who are sick stay isolated for at least seven days after symptoms appear until they have been fever-free for at least three days.

Variale does not think that the city has been able to care for aid workers during their response to the virus, he said.

“They’re cutting back on the health and safety of EMS providers because they failed to plan from the beginning,” Variale said.

Variale thinks FDNY officials should consider moving to 12-hour rotations for paramedics instead of the current 8-hour rotations, giving EMS workers more time to rest between shifts and also allowing them to put more staff on each shift because of the way the shifts are organized, he said.

Variale recommends that New Yorkers only call 911 for absolute emergencies, insisting “you don’t want to go to the hospital right now.”

They can also donate to the FDNY EMS fund, which can help support paramedics at this time by paying for places for them to stay if they do not want to risk returning home between shifts, for example, Variale said.

This story first appeared on amny.com.

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