FDNY EMT after responding to a fever/cough call at 418 w. 17th street in Manhattan.
The city's overworked ambulance crews say they are at risk of catching the coronavirus because the FDNY is limiting the use of N95 masks — as City Hall parcels out the precious supplies, The Post has learned. The FDNY ordered EMTs and paramedics to wear the protective masks only when doing "aerosol-generating procedures," EMS Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay wrote in a letter to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro obtained by The Post. Such procedures — such as placing a breathing tube in a patient's throat, treating cardiac cases and giving certain meds to asthma patients — can release small particles containing the virus into the air.
"If our members complied with this order, they would not wear masks at scenes where airborne pathogens could lead to illness and possibly death," Barzilay wrote, noting that first responders don't always know the conditions at the situations to which they respond. He said the order and similar ones "are being produced and issued by Chiefs that are far removed from medical scenes and will not be adversely affected." EMTs and medics plan to defy the FDNY mask order, the union boss warned. "We are advising our member to use the N95 masks if they feel it is necessary," he wrote. "The Union will vigorously defend our dedicated members if they are disciplined for using N95 masks to protect themselves." Variale, who represents uniformed EMS officers, saying the FDNY was following inadequate guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control about mask use — to the peril of first responders.
"After 9/11 the federal government said the air was fine, and 20 years later we're still dying of cancer," Variale said. "Shame on the FDNY for not going above and beyond what the CDC recommends."
One veteran paramedic blasted the FDNY's order. "You're trapped in a little box with the patient — 6 by 9 feet. There's no social distancing in the back of an ambulance. If the patient coughs, you're exposed." FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said the guidelines were meant to conserve the supply of N95 masks and that workers should use surgical masks for other situations, including patients with fevers and coughs, which could be symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. The N95s offer more protection than surgical masks. He said workers would not be disciplined for using the N95 masks against the rules. "We are not reusing masks at this time, as some in the health care field have been forced to do," he said. "At the moment, we have a good supply of these items for several weeks and are hopeful the supply chain will continue." Despite the official statements, a source said FDNY brass were outraged over a diverted shipment of 500,000 N95 masks sent last week from the White House to City Hall. "They didn't tell the FDNY that there were any masks and they didn't get one mask from that first haul," said the source close to the FDNY. "The commissioner was livid. He didn't get one mask. It was political." The city also ordered 5 million masks from 3M, but the FDNY has not received any. "We will do everything in our power to protect our first responders. The FDNY requested 250,000 surgical masks on Wednesday and received them the following day. We will continue to monitor our supply and follow the guidance of our health experts," said City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer.
The less effective surgical masks are not in as short supply as the N95s. "We have not yet received the vast majority of our shipment from 3M … but we take them as they are produced. The masks from the White House were sent directly to our public hospital system," Feyer said. Meanwhile, the N95 mask supply was so short at some hospitals that some nurses resorted to desperate measures. A New York Presbyterian Hospital nurse said she recently saw another worker wearing a diaper over her nose and mouth. "Supposedly it filters out a lot," said the nurse, who requested anonymity.
Last month, the hospital announced nurses could no longer bring their own gear from home, such as masks, gloves or gowns, and must wear what the hospital provides, an NYP spokeswoman confirmed. The nurse said she had been wearing N95 masks donated to her when the hospital didn't make them available. "Everyone will have to make their own decisions about what risks they are willing to take. But it's a shame to have to feel this way," she said. On Thursday, the de Blasio Administration began advising New Yorkers to cover their noses and mouths when outside using homemade masks or a scarf or bandanna. One desperate elderly Manhattan resident, who has been unable to buy a mask, told The Post she has been stuffing a sanitary napkin inside a homemade cloth mask for extra protection from the deadly germs.
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