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EMS in the News

EMS Unions: Antibody Test Results Support Case for Pay Parity. FDNY Has Higher Positive Rate Than Cops; Gov: EMTs Are Driving It

  • May 7, 2020           The Chief

The president of the union representing Emergency Medical Technicians said the results of COVID-19 antibody testing, as well as remarks by Governor Cuomo, greatly strengthen the case for giving those workers pay parity with other first-responders. As part of the Governor's April 29 daily briefing, he released the results of the antibody test given to 1,000 Fire Department members two days earlier at five locations. The effort was organized by Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, in cooperation with the Governor's Office and the FDNY.

                                                               More Positives Than NYPD

Without breaking down the findings by job, the results showed 17.1 percent of the group comprised by Firefighters and officers and EMTs tested positive for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, indicating that at some point they had been exposed to the coronavirus. That compares to 10.5 percent of the NYPD officers who were tested. Mr. Cuomo noted that the state's testing indicated that 18 percent of the general population in the downstate area had tested positive. "The number's much higher in the FDNY," he told reporters. "We believe that that's because the EMT number is driving it up. But we have to do more numbers and research to determine that." He continued, "Remember, the EMTs are the front line; they are the ones assisting the person in the closest contact in many ways." According to John Nuthall, a PBA spokesperson, the State Department of Health antibody testing for the city's first-responders grew out of a conversation union President Pat Lynch had with the Governor. Between the NYPD the FDNY, dozens of employees have lost their lives during the pandemic and several thousand were sidelined.

                                                               'Shows Danger of Our Job'

"These results just go to show how we have always been engaged with these kinds of invisible and potentially fatal bullets throughout the years," said Oren Barzilay, president of District Council 37's Local 2507, which represents EMTs--including those at the paramedic level--and Fire Inspectors. "Now, with this pandemic there's a major public-health concern, and we are seeing empirical proof of how dangerous our work is on the front lines, which includes hospitals, prisons, nursing homes and New Yorkers' homes, wherever they live." Testing positive indicates that at some point those employees were exposed to the COVID-9 virus and developed measurable antibodies that could immunize them from the disease in the future. Even those who weren't afflicted but exhibited symptoms or were entirely asymptomatic could have spread the virus. While there has been speculation that those who were sickened by the COVID-19 virus and recovered might develop immunity, medical experts and the World Health Organization warn there's no scientific proof of that. South Korean public-health officials April 13 issued a global advisory that they had documented 113 cases of recovered COVID-9 patients in which the virus "reactivated."

                                                               'The Tip of the Spear'

Mr. Barzilay said he was grateful to UFA President Fitzgerald for including his members in the antibody testing. Vincent Variale, president of DC 37 Local 3621, which represents the FDNY EMS Officers, said that while his members were not included in this round of testing, Mr. Cuomo's comments "only confirm we are the tip of the spear, because we are usually the first one in the door during this pandemic." "But my question is, why do we still have such a limit on the number of tests?" he asked. "Sounds like we still have the original problem of insufficient testing in a situation where every first-responder, especially EMS, should be tested." Mr. Fitzgerald said that his union got 1,000 COVID-19 antibody tests from the state and divided them among its members, Local 2507 and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. After being informed last weekend by the Governor's Office that the tests were available, he said in a phone interview, "We went to work on Sunday to set up with the FDNY the five test locations and get all the appointments confirmed by 11 p.m. Sunday night."

                                                                Some More Urgent

While the testing was offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, Mr. Fitzgerald said union households with someone who was pregnant or had a pre-existing health condition were urged to participate. Both Mr. Barzilay and Mr. Fitzgerald said that their members' biggest worry was that they could bring the virus home to their families. Persons with pre-existing conditions are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. "We know what we signed up for, but the biggest complaint I am getting is about the possibility that when you are going home you want your family to be safe and you could possibly be spreading it to them," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We have had members that were never symptomatic but had COVID-19. It proves that we had members coming to work spreading the disease." He added, "They don't have enough evidence about this disease yet. And we have changed the way we handled this over a dozen times...Don't wear a mask, wear a mask or keep wearing an N-95 mask when you are supposed to wear it only once."

                                                               Death Hits Especially Hard

The virulent nature of COVID-19 was driven home by the April 20 death of the four-month-old daughter of Probationary Firefighter Jerel La Santa and his wife Lindsey. Jay-Natalie La Santa, who had a heart condition, was hospitalized back in March after developing a fever. NBC News reported the infant had initially tested negative for COVID-19, but after a week at the hospital tested positive.

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