Few in Queens will forget when the borough was known as the “epicenter of the epicenter” during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when the only sounds coming from the streets were the sirens and gunned engines of FDNY EMS ambulances rushing the stricken to Elmhurst Hospital and other emergency facilities. The EMS and paramedics who worked endless shifts on those rigs and often slept in their own cars rather than subject their families to the coronavirus haven’t forgotten and neither has FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh.
In a message to the members of the FDNY on July 18, she announced that all who served during the darkest days and nights of the pandemic will be recognized for all they did for the city.
“For more than two years, our EMTs, Paramedics, firefighters, officers and all our civilian staff continued to show up for work, treating the sickest among us and responding to fires, despite fighting an invisible enemy,” Kavanagh wrote. “The care and concern displayed for others was, and always is, exceptional. We know there are many among us who became ill themselves and suffered personal losses, and yet returned to duty. This resiliency and dedication to the mission has not gone unnoticed.”
Kavanagh announced that every FDNY member who worked during the pandemic would be presented with a COVID Campaign Ribbon or lapel pin as a thank you from the Department for their service during the public health emergency.
“In the FDNY, we pride ourselves in showing up for all emergencies, big and small, no matter the time or place,” Kavanagh continued. “We show up when others turn away and we do it every single time we respond. We have done that for more than 150 years, and, most recently, we did it bravely and selflessly in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The commissioner’s message drew a mixed review from FDNY EMS Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay.
“We are thankful that the department is showing some recognition to our members,” Barzilay said. “However, all these ceremonies, events, citations and awards don’t put food on the table and a roof over our members’ heads.”
Emergency medical technicians and paramedics currently receive the lowest pay among the city’s first responders and last month, Barzilay fired off a letter to Mayor Eric Adams saying that low wages created a severe retention problem in the ranks with 30% of EMTs quitting after three years and 50% after five years of service. Barzilay drafted the letter after the Adams administration announced a mandated minimum wage scale for app-based delivery workers that would pay them a higher starting wage than first-year FDNY EMTs.
“The only way to feel acknowledged is by addressing our poverty wages,” Barzilay told QNS on July 19. “The pay issue is the only thing that matters now.”