They're not the Bravest when it comes to the coronavirus. The FDNY won't dispatch its firefighters to potential coronavirus patients, leaving its paramedics and EMTs to handle them alone, The Post has learned. The department issued an order Friday temporarily relieving firefighters from responding to calls of the second highest priority for patients with fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or even those who are unconscious. A fever, cough and trouble breathing are the most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus, officially called COVID-19. "We can't believe they would put out this order during one of the biggest citywide health crises. The fact that they're abdicating all of this is just astounding," one paramedic told The Post. "You're talking about people who call themselves the Bravest." EMTs and paramedics, with their ranks already depleted, believe the order will further strain the system.
"It puts everyone at risk. It puts EMS workers at risk, when we don't have the resources. It puts the lives of New Yorkers at risk if they're not on scene," said Anthony Almojera, an EMS lieutenant in Sunset Park who is vice president of Local 3621 of the FDNY Uniformed EMS Officers. Almojera noted there are a lot of rookies in the EMS ranks. "If this thing really takes off — we have the state of emergency now — these kids aren't going to be able to handle it," he said. All FDNY firefighters are certified first responders, and will continue to respond to the highest priority cases such as cardiac arrest or choking, said FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer. "Firefighters continue to respond to the highest priority medical calls, whether they are potential COVID-19 calls or not including … cardiac and respiratory arrests, choking, and trauma incidents," Dwyer said. City Councilman Joseph Borelli, chairman of the fire and emergency management committee, called the restriction "a smart idea." "It seems like a logical way to reduce the number of people who come in close contact with coronavirus patients." he said. "Someone complaining of flu-like symptoms doesn't need an engine company with five firefighters." But the directive comes amid a "critical shortage" of EMS personnel. The FDNY is down hundreds of EMTs and paramedics because of their relatively low pay — an ongoing sore spot — and exodus to become firefighters.
The shortage has forced the department to lift a cap on overtime to fill vacant EMS positions. A veteran paramedic said the order likely stems from a fear of having to quarantine an entire firehouse if one member contracted the virus. "They would literally lose the firehouse. If you lose the house, the response times go through the roof," the paramedic said. In Seattle, at least 30 firefighters who responded to a nursing home where coronavirus erupted have been quarantined. Firefighters normally assist EMS by helping lift patients onto stretchers, starting life-saving procedures such as CPR or giving oxygen, if needed, and controlling the scene. The FDNY said all EMS and firefighters have been trained on proper procedure for wearing personal protective equipment on any potential COVID-19 calls.
Additional reporting by Joseph Konig