EMS workers no longer required to wear FDNY boots
By Jonathan Lemire
The New York Daily News
NEW YORK — These boots weren't made for working.
The FDNY has been forced to rescind an order requiring Emergency Medical Service employees to wear special protective boots - footwear union officials blame for hundreds of injuries.
The boots — a pound heavier and more than an inch wider than the previous gear issued to EMS - resemble "clown shoes" and endanger paramedics, a union official charged.
"We have had members suffer injuries that range from minor to the very, very serious," said Robert Ungar, spokesman for the local union representing paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
"These boots are not meant for day-to-day operations," Ungar added. "They are so clunky and cumbersome that we have had members, rushing to an emergency, fall down stairs."
Some EMTs wearing the inflexible steel-toed boots - which weigh about 5 pounds a pair - had trouble driving ambulances, resulting in several accidents, Ungar said. "We had one member who hit the gas when she meant to hit the brake and slammed into another car," he said.
Fire Department officials will meet with the union to find a solution. Replacing the boots for more than 2,800 members is costly, FDNY sources said.
The $328 Pro-Warrington boots were issued in the fall of 2006 as part of the FDNY's overhaul of its protective equipment.
For nearly two years, EMS workers were allowed to keep the boots in their ambulances and put them on when needed. In September 2008, they were told to wear them full time.
Believing the order violated its contract, the EMT union filed a grievance against the FDNY. An arbiter ruled for the union last month.
The arbiter also ordered that all disciplinary action taken against EMTs for not wearing the boots be thrown out.
"We were not properly consulted, and we feel that the department turned a blind eye to our complaints," Ungar said. "These boots make sense for firefighters, but not for what we do."
Harold Hoover, a 19-year-veteran, suffered a broken bone and torn tendons in one foot after wearing the boots and is now suing for a disability pension.
"When I complained, I was repeatedly told I had no choice and that I had to deal with the pain and that if I didn't wear them, that I would be brought up on charges for being out of uniform," Hoover said.
The city blames Hoover's injury on his diabetes.
FDNY officials insist union executives were consulted in the design process.
"The safety of our members is and always has been the primary concern," FDNY spokesman Steve Ritea said.
Reprinted with permission from the New York Daily News.