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Beyond the scope or part of the job? EMS providers weigh in on COVID-19 hazard pay

EMS1 members shared their perspectives after it was reported that federal officials were considering hazard pay for first responders during the pandemic

The potential for first responder hazard pay as a result of the COVID-19 national health emergency has generated hundreds of responses on social media and emails to, with EMS personnel strongly divided. Many say the pay isn’t necessary, arguing, “we knew what we signed up for when we climbed onto the rig,” while others note the extraordinary circumstances, contending, “while the job of paramedics and first responders has its inherent risks, the COVID-19 pandemic is outside the scope of everyday risks.”

We compiled several responses here as well as a Roundtable of responses from the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board, and will share additional news and analysis as the situation evolves. Several local governments have implemented hazard pay and stipends for first responders and other front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find an ongoing list here.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently said in an interview with CNN that hazard pay for first responders could be included in future legislation to address the COVID-19 crisis. President Donald Trump also said on “Fox and Friends” earlier this week that his administration was looking into hazard pay for healthcare workers.

A petition launched by a Kentucky EMT calling on the president, lawmakers and other government officials to provide first responders with hazard pay during the pandemic has received more than 37,000 signatures as of this writing. However, not all first responders are in favor of receiving the extra pay, arguing that facing danger is part of the job they signed up for.

EMS1 members have shared their thoughts on the topic on social media and in emails to the editor. Below are some of the arguments providers have made for and against receiving hazard pay for COVID-19.

Absolutely. While the job of paramedics and first responders has its inherent risks, the COVID19 pandemic is outside the scope of “everyday risks”. Especially when considering these individuals go home to their families with young children. I love my job so much but this adds another layer of stress to what would typically be a routine call. The stress factor is huge these days and should be accounted for by the government stimulus. — Kate, FF/Paramedic

Yes I believe EMS providers should receive Hazard pay for the COVID-19 pandemic because we are actually the first ones to respond to patients that aren’t able to get to the doctor or the ED. We are just as likely to contract this as are the other healthcare providers if not more. We are actually closed in with them in smaller and more compromised spaces. And just as other healthcare providers we are possibly bringing this home to our families and elders. We do a job that most ppl would never do. In my opinion EMS IS THE FRONTLINERS, and DESERVE hazard pay. Just as this NOVEL COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate neither does EMS we are there for everyone. — Stephanie Dillard, EMT

We all signed up for the possibility of pandemics what we did not sign up for is to fight a pandemic without proper protection. This goes against everything we are taught from day one. Without proper PPE SCENE NOT SAFE! Your number one priority is to always be scene safe, partner and your self’s safety. This is a health risk. Then pt’s safety. No one will pay for us to get medical care of PTO for extended time of down time for treatment. We don’t make enough to afford the time out either, nor can we afford the hospital bills it comes with. — Annie, EMT-B

It seems as though the fire department’s all over the country are viewed as Saints and protected and paid in several ways. Where private ambulance companies (including 911 first response) seem to continue the stigma that there is no money in transport and EMT’s and some medics (depending on company and location) are a dime a dozen and not worth the money, time, or effort of retention. I would say that during this crisis, yes all of EMS deserves hazard pay and recognition of service. I also believe that the same hazard pay should be mandatory for any area in the country who uses private ambulance for any 911 first response services whether it is medical authority or support/ transport. — James M., EMT

I knew war was possible when I joined the US Army but still got a hazard duty pay increase when serving in the war zone. How is this any different? — Mike, firefighter/paramedic, U.S. Army veteran

While our work does involve some hazards this issue of COVID-19 does go above and beyond anything we have to deal with. The use of additional PPE is a burden that in the 25 years I have be in EMS has taken it’s toll emotionally and financially for all of us in the EMS Service. The compensation would be a blessing to receive. — David A Berk EMT-B, supply officer

I feel as though we signed up for it but that it is the responsibility of the gov., state etc to make sure that all EMS responders have the appropriate PPE to do so only then would I consider hazard pay if the PPE was unavailable or ineffective. — Carlee

I have been an EMS provider for 18 years, and the current public healthcare emergency is alarming to me. EMS providers of any level have always been trained to handle multiple types of emergencies, both seen and unseen. We always try to keep ourself and our partner safe during any response. This emergency not only puts you and your partner at risk, but also your family, other co-workers, staff at the receiving facility, your next patient, and so on. We have received special training to help with recognizing what level of personal protection we need to wear during a patient response and get constant updates. But, if as a first responder I recognize the signs and symptoms of the COVID 19 virus, I can hopefully reduce further exposure to others. We, as first responders, are putting ourselves in a possible hazardous situation and should receive hazard pay. — Carla Baker, AEMT

“YES, I am all for EMS workers receiving Hazard Pay. They are frequently the 1st professional a person infected with Covid-19 sees. There are confined into a small ambulance to get the infected person to a hospital or medical facility. There is zero possibility of social distancing and they probably are not equipped with the necessary protective gear. I pray this will be made possible for ALL EMS workers and possibly their families.” — Brenda Oehlson

“Now is not the time to be selfish. Something about asking for this feels wrong. The real crime here is that the memory of the American people is so short that there are folks who feel they need to strike while the iron is hot. If this were a hemorrhagic fever that killed everything it touched, I’d probably view it differently. What the government really needs to do is go to bat for those first responders who have an immunocompromised family member in their home. Those folks need an expansion of FMLA more now than ever. Hazard Pay for first responders isn’t going to protect their children with bone cancer. Only laws like FMLA can do that.” — Gregory B. Carr A.A.S, EMT-P, North Carolina paramedic

“I hope [there is hazard pay]. I have been on the front lines for 21 years as a NYC EMT, but this is like a bad dream. We are all exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. I haven’t seen my 9-year-old in 2 weeks because I don’t want to risk passing anything to her. Yet and still we all get up every day put on our uniform and continue to serve the citizens of NYC. I am praying we all make out of this one.” — Tanesha L.

“Instead of taxpayer funded hazard pay, that money should be spent on increasing the PPE supply, because with proper PPE used the way it’s supposed to (in other words NOT having to reuse it), we’re NOT at an elevated hazard level.” — Alex F.

“I agree [with hazard pay] but not just the healthcare workers. Same with custodians, information technology, and food service workers that are putting in hours at ambulance services and hospitals to support those first responders and who have to interact with exposed people.” — Reggie Y.

“You weren’t drafted for this type of service. YOU choose to be in this line of work or volunteer your time or both. It’s a price we pay for doing what we love.” — Jordan W.

“Anyone who is putting their health at risk dealing with the public during this time should be given higher wages. Period!” — Kate H.

“I don’t want hazard pay, but if everyone bringing food to the hospitals wants to bring some by the station that would be neat.” — Jessica G.

“I was in the army. I signed up to possibly fight in a war. If I deployed, I got combat pay. If I went to Korea, I got hazardous duty pay. Even though I signed up for that. As a paramedic, I signed up to help people in their time of need knowing that it is possible I make get hurt or killed or sick. Not that I might bring something home to my family due to a lack of PPE, but I’m still expected to do my job and I will. So since I signed up for this and this is a major hazard, hazard pay should happen. It’s the same thing.” – William L.

“At the risks of starting another debate I say no to hazard pay. We knew what we signed up for when we climbed onto the rig. However, pay increase should apply to my brothers and sisters before pay increases sitting in Congress. The way I see it, those on the streets doing public service work are the heartbeat of our communities. This is just one moment in time and just one hazard of many. Though I am no longer in any kind of public service my heart still beats for it. I see this movement as one that downplays everything you did daily before this moment in time. It downplays everything you will go through after this moment passes. We are more than our actions now. It would be my honor and duty if I still had the opportunity to be on the rig to work now. Good luck and stay safe.” — Kevin S.

“I’m torn ... we signed up for this ... check! BUT I’m not looking to infect my family just because I chose this profession. This is uncharted water for most, so I appreciate everyone’s concern and thanks ... I won’t turn down hazard pay if awarded it.” — Allen W.

Laura French is a former editorial assistant for FireRescue1 and EMS1, responsible for curating breaking news and other stories that impact first responders. In a prior role at Forensic Magazine, French was able to combine her interests in journalism, forensics and criminology. French has a bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism with a minor in criminology from Ramapo College in New Jersey.