From the City Hall desk of LaborPress’s Bob Hennelly
New York, NY – In an internal video released to the FDNY rank and file workforce, the department’s Chief Medical Officer David Prezant assured firefighters that recent fatal “medical incidents” involving their co-workers, three of who were on duty at the time, were not COVID or vaccine related as some firefighters suspect.
“I have personally reviewed the causes of death of each one of these four members,” said Dr. Prezant in the video obtained exclusively by LaborPress. “Out of respect for their families wishes and to adhere to strict health care confidentiality rules, I cannot share their specific causes of death. However, I can say with certainty that we do know their actual causes of death —that these tragic deaths were unrelated and that the cause were unique to each one of these members — that their deaths in no way are related to COVID 19 or COVID 19 vaccination.”
Dr. Prezant cited peer reviewed studies that he said confirmed the “safety and efficacy” of the vaccines with reactions to the shot limited to “transient side effects” like soreness around the injection site as well as flu-like symptoms.
The video was in response to concerns expressed by the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Uniform Fire Officers Association about a spate of firefighter deaths since December, three of which occurred on the clock, that were the result of what was described at the time they were reported by the FDNY as “medical incidents.”
Union leaders said a significant number of their members expressed concerns about the potential impact of so-called long haul COVID or the vaccine that the de Blasio administration mandated all city civil servants get.
The passing last month of Firefighter Jesse Gerhard, 33, after a medical episode a day after he fought a two-alarm fire in Far Rockaway, was the latest in a string of active-duty deaths since Dec. 8 when Probationary Firefighter Vincent Malveaux suffered “a medical episode during training” the day before at the FDNY Training Academy on Randall’s Island. He was just 31.
On Dec. 26, FDNY Lt. Joe Maiello, 53, died after he was discovered unconscious at his Staten Island Firehouse. The Medical Examiner determined the 22-year department veteran died from heart disease. The FDNY confirmed that Dr. Prezant also reviewed the medical records of Lt. Robert Cruz, who was an active duty member but not on duty when he passed.
“This isn’t everything we asked for—it’s half of it,” Lt. Jim McCarthy, president of the UFOA, told LaborPress. “We are asking for an independent physician to examine the autopsy reports.”
“I appreciate Dr. Prezant investigating these cases and reporting back to the membership, but I am well aware that this may not satisfy some members that have their doubts,” said UFA President Andy Ansbro. “Members should also know that none of the families we have been in contact with have said that COVID or the vaccine played a role in the death of their loved one.”
The overwhelming majority of FDNY firefighters and emergency medical service personnel were sidelined by a COVID infection at some point during the nearly two year pandemic. Close to 95 percent of the active duty FDNY workforce is vaccinated. Of the close to 400 New York City civil servants who died from COVID, many before the vaccine was available, two were firefighters, five were from EMS and 9 were civilian department employees.
According to the FDNY unions, there are dozens of active-duty members that have been sidelined by complications from their bout with the deadly virus. According to a Penn State College of Medicine study, “more than half of the 236 million people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since December 2019 will experience post-COVID symptoms — more commonly known as ‘long COVID’ — up to six months after recovering.”
Peer reviewed medical studies have found that those long COVID symptoms can vary greatly, ranging from minor to severe, even disabling. Post-infection symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, fever, pain, brain fog, anxiety disorders, lung abnormalities, cardiovascular issues including chest pain and palpitations, skin conditions and digestive issues.
The UFA and the UFOA confirmed that as a consequence of the pandemic, the FDNY had fallen far behind on the mandatory annual physicals required for all active-duty Firefighters and members of the Emergency Medical Service.
“They do 10,000 medical exams a year and they have completed just 9,500 in the last two years—so potentially there are several thousand members that have not had a medical since the onset of COVID,” said Andy Ansbo, UFA president, during a phone interview. “We owe it to the Firefighters that worked through COVID to get a baseline of their heart and lung functions because as we all know COVID has been known to cause long-term heart, lung and random organ damage and this could be related.”
“They really have to address the backlog of these physicals on an expedited basis—we have members that have gone for more than two years without one,” said the UFOA’s McCarthy. Before the pandemic, the UFOA advised its members to get a physical from their family physician six months after their FDNY examination.