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EMS in the News

'First line of defense' EMTs worried they're running out of masks as virus outbreak continues

By: Joe Mauceri     PIX11 NEWS      Mar 24, 2020

NEW YORK — While hospitals are quickly running out of protective equipment, so are first responders on the front lines.

Now one union leader is worried EMTs are being forgotten as they race to replenish their supplies before it's too late.

FDNY EMTs go through about 5,000 N-95 masks when they respond to calls each day. Now, calls are up 20% and if they don't get new masks soon, they could run out by the end of the week. It would put both EMTs and those in need at risk.

"Our situation right now is pretty much dire," said Oren Barzilay, president of Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors with Local 2507.

So far, he says about 50 of his men and women have tested positive for COVID-19, hundreds have shown symptoms and one has been hospitalized. 

"We are the first line of defense and we need this equipment first," Barzilay said. "We're the ones who are dropping off patients at hospitals or other medical facilities that people are asking us to take them. So for anybody to get it before us doesn't make any sense."

At a time when EMTs should be strengthening protocols and protections, he said the FDNY is about to lower their standards because they're running out of N-95 masks.

"The department, however, because it's running low, is suggesting that people use it multiple times, which is unacceptable," Barzilay said.

Once they run out of N-95 masks, Barzilay says the FDNY wants EMTs to switch to a less protective surgical mask.
During an interview with PIX 11 on Monday, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro acknowledged the increased risk for EMTs out in the field.

"Social distancing in ambulances and fire trucks is not possible," he said.

While there has been no official statement regarding the masks from the FDNY, Nigro also acknowledged that it's in everyone's interest to protect the men and women on the front lines.

"We need every first responder in this city to be healthy going forward," said Nigro.  If they do run out of masks, Barzilay said EMTs have full body protective equipment they can wear out on calls, but the FDNY would have to sign off on it first.

Everyone involved is hoping it doesn't come to that.

Copyright 2020 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. 

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