FDNY sees highest call volume since 9/11

Union leaders said the COVID-19 crisis has driven 911 calls up by 40% while staff is decreasing as department members test positive


By Laura French

NEW YORK — Union leaders representing FDNY firefighters and EMS personnel say the department is responding to its highest number of calls since 9/11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay told Bloomberg News that medical emergency calls have increased by 40% to about 6,500 per day, while most years the department only sees about 5,000 calls on its busiest days.

An FDNY EMT works outside Elmhurst Hospital Center, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. FDNY union leaders say the department is seeing its highest medical call volume since 9/11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An FDNY EMT works outside Elmhurst Hospital Center, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. FDNY union leaders say the department is seeing its highest medical call volume since 9/11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Barzilay also said calls specifically about COVID-19 have been rising exponentially, from about 20 calls per day in early March to 300 a day last week.

Uniformed EMS Officers Local 3621 Vice President Anthony Almojera told Bloomberg that the FDNY is seeing the “most (calls) since September 11th.”

Almojera also said there have been more calls reporting fever, cough and chest pain, some of which turned out to be COVID-19 cases.

In addition to a rising call volume, the department is also grappling with staffing issues due to dozens of members testing positive for COVID-19. Barzilay said the department is not providing testing and employees are getting tested at hospitals and other sites on their own.

“We are already past the surge for our system. We passed that mark,” Barzilay told Bloomberg. “If we lose another 10% of people to falling ill from this, I think the city is going to (be in) a crisis.” 

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