New York, NY – A LaborPress investigation has revealed the alarming statistics showing a dramatic spike in violent assaults on the FDNY EMS workforce are only a partial picture of challenging workplace conditions faced by the entire sector that includes volunteer and private sectors EMS also serving throughout the city alongside their civil service colleagues.
International and national occupational health reports have flagged a troubling uptick in violent assaults on EMS workers as COVID paced unprecedented stress on public health systems here and around the world.
According to the FDNY, the FDNY’s EMS workforce, represented by DC 37 Local 2507 and Local 3621, answered two-thirds of the city’s 911 medical calls, with the other third going to a network of so-called Voluntary Hospitals that provide fully-credentialed EMTs and Paramedics. The FDNY data does not include that portion of the workforce whose private sector employers are covered by OSHA reporting requirements.
The FDNY EMS workforce, rank and file as well as officers, is close to 5,000. According to the EMSPAC, a non-profit advocacy group, NYC’s has a total of 14,500 EMS workers divided into four “distinct deployment models with different funding channels, varying benefits, uniform colors, vehicle colors, conditions, and levels of prestige–FDNY 911 Municipal, Voluntary Hospital 911, Private Inter-facility Transport, and Community Volunteers.”
In that mix include private sector EMS providers that are non-union. There is no integrated database tracking assaults on public, private sector and community based volunteer EMS members. The FDNY statistics tracks only assaults on FDNY employees who are civil servants covered under New York State’s Public Employee Safety & Health Bureau that was created in 1980.
In 2006, Albany enacted legislation requiring public employers like the City of New York to “develop and implement programs to prevent and minimize workplace violence and help ensure the safety of public employees.”
In 2018, according to the FDNY, there were 163 assaults on FDNY EMS workers. In 2019, that jumped to 217. In 2020, the start of the pandemic, it hit 329, spiking to 386 last year.
Over the same arc of time, the number of patients that assaulted their FDNY EMS caregiver went from 107 to 237 last year. By contrast, violent attacks by a member of the public, not the patient, like a family member, went from 22 in 2018 to 126 in 2021.
Not captured in this FDNY tracking are incidents like the recent shooting of EMT Richard McMahon, 25, who works for Staten Island’s Richmond University Medical Center, which provides EMS coverage for the city’s 911 system. McMahon is a member of SEIU 1199.
McMahon, who has subsequently been released from the hospital, was shot on May 18, in the shoulder after he and his partner responded to a 911 “unknown condition” call that brought them to the Funkey Monkey Lounge on Forest Avenue and Llewellyn Place.
BRUSH WITH DEATH
The Richmond University Medical Center EMS crew tried to provide aid to Thomas McCauley, 37, who according to multiple press reports they had found severely intoxicated outside the Funky Monkey.
“I was taking down the guy’s information on my tablet and happened to look up and see a gun pointed at my face,” McMahon told the Staten Island Advance. “Sooner than I could react, I heard a loud bang and immediately felt pressure on my left shoulder, got up,[and] screamed, ‘I’m shot! I’m shot!’ to my partner.”
The wounded EMT managed to grab the shooter’s wrists and disarm him. McCauley tried to flee but was caught by two passersby, retired NYPD detective Marty Graham and Sanitation Department Environmental Police Lt. Joseph Perrone. Press reports said the suspect also had a knife and pepper spray on him.
McMahon was stoic when he spoke with the New York Post. “Unfortunately, it’s the world we live in. It happens much more than it’s made public,” he told the newspaper.
“It’s very confusing — there are so many different agencies providing EMS related service in New York City,” said Josh Kimbrell, chief communications officer with EMSPAC. “The FDNY statistics doesn’t include any of the agencies outside the 911 system whether volunteer, private EMS, or transit EMS who obviously can also get assaulted and find themselves disabled facing the same financial hardships related to those attacks your civil service EMS worker can face.”
Mike Greco, Vice President of DC 37’s Local 2507, which represents the FDNY’s EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors, said in a phone interview that McMahon’s encounter underscores just how perilous a situation EMTs can find themselves in. “We can’t even frisk somebody for weapons — it would be illegal — we are not peace officers,” Greco said.
Vincent Variale is president of DC 37’s Local 3621 which represents the FDNY EMS officers. He thinks the city should be tracking assaults on any emergency medical service personnel answering FDNY 911 calls, including the private sector services where workers may or may not be represented by a union to support them.
OFF THE RADAR
“We learned this after 9/11, when I noticed that we had private sector EMTS non-union that people don’t recognize as having been part of that response and yet several of them were real heroes going into those buildings and not coming out,” said Variale.
Variale believes by keeping more accurate data on the violent assaults on EMS their case would be even stronger for pay and benefit parity with police and fire uniform officers. “For years they have insisted are jobs are not as dangerous, yet even the limited data we have show that’s not the case,” he said.
A pre-pandemic survey of close to 2,000 EMTs from 13 countries, mostly from the United States found that two-thirds reported having been assaulted on the job with weapons being used in ten percent of the incidents.
“These EMS personnel have a rate of occupational fatality comparable to firefighters and police, and a rate of nonfatal injuries that is higher than the rates for police and firefighters and much higher than the national average for all workers,” the researchers reported in their study that was published by Cambridge University Press. “Emergency Medical Services personnel in the US have a rate of occupational violence injuries that is about 22-times higher than the average for all workers.”
Despite recent progress in the last round of contract negotiations, FDNY EMS personnel pay and benefits lag considerably behind their uniform counterparts in fire and police.
Variale used the recent mass casualty subway shooting in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn to illustrate the uniform forces disparity which the EMS unions have long alleged is linked to their more gender and racially diverse demographic.
“Consider we were all standing at the same spot, responding to the same emergency in the subway where they found some unexploded devices – yet had they gone off and FDNY EMS were injured they would be off payroll after 18 months while cops and firefighters at the same scene would be eligible for unlimited sick time,” said Variale. “If one us died, there would be a one-time $150,000 payment while police and fire would have their spouse and family receive payments and benefits the rest of their lives. Why the difference?”