New York, NY -The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro to preside over the virtual graduation of 153 Probationary Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in Fort Totten, Queens, recently. But FDNY EMS Local 2507President Oren Barzilay believes the new EMTs couldn’t have come at a better time.
“First and foremost, we congratulate the men and women that graduated our EMS Academy, we are sure they will use their skills to save countless lives,” Barzilay told LaborPress.
The probationary EMTs trained for 13 weeks at an EMS Academy in all aspects of their job, which included CPR, patient medical and trauma assessments and oxygen and ventilation skills, according to the FDNY. They also trained in management of hypotension and fractures; for spinal immobilization and emergency childbirth; and emergency vehicle operation.
“This year has confirmed what we in the Department have always known – FDNY Emergency Medical Technicians are vital for the health and safety of our city,” Nigro said. “Our graduates have received outstanding training and are ready to join the brave men and women of the FDNY who are responding to thousands of medical emergencies every day on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
This graduating class underwent training with COVID-19 precautions in place, which included social distancing, face coverings, and utilizing smaller groups for classroom education and hands-on exercises, according to the department.
The new EMTs were assigned to units throughout New York City and started their first shift on Oct. 24, according to the FDNY.
Michael Brockett was one of the graduates at the ceremony.
“I remember watching all the first responders go to work during the attacks on September 11th,” Brockett said. “I was only eight years old, but ever since that day I knew I wanted to be like them. Graduating during a pandemic feels very surreal, but we are all prepared to help out New Yorkers that need us.”
Deonte Moore was another graduate of the program.
“Graduating during a pandemic is definitely a different experience, but I feel prepared to go out and make a difference,” said Moore. “I am eager to contribute. I want to help people and I know this is a great opportunity to help the city.”
While Barzilay is appreciative of what the graduates want to do for the city, he also wants the city and department to step up for the current and new EMTs.
“The new graduates will only bring a temporary reinforcement to our thin lines as more and more people resign from this job once they realize the high risks they face with the low pay, minimum wage,” said Barzilay. “More and more people resign from FDNY EMS in recent months than is even known.”
FDNY-EMT workers start off making a little over $15/hour and the combined stress with the low pay results in a turnover of 500 to 600 people exiting the department annually, according to Barzilay.
“The men and women of FDNY EMS earn just a dollar over the minimum wage, it’s extremely stressful and extremely dangerous, now more than ever with Covid as we have lost a few of our own, with over 1,500 men and women sick from Covid,” said Barzilay.
“We have less than 100 members with over 20 years of experience, over 70-percent have less than five years, no one wants to stay here. The only way people will stay doing this job is with livable wages – $35,000 a year doesn’t cut it.”