FDNY appoints first Black EMS chief

“I feel great about the opportunity to serve New York City in this way,” said Michael Fields, former deputy assistant chief of EMS Operations

By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The FDNY will ring in 2023 by appointing its first Black EMS chief to lead New York City’s emergency medical technicians and paramedics, the Daily News has learned.

Deputy Assistant Chief of EMS Operations Michael Fields will take over the top spot effective Jan. 1, FDNY officials confirmed Friday. He is replacing retiring EMS Chief Lillian Bonsignore, the first woman and openly gay leader of the city Emergency Medical Service.

“I feel great about the opportunity to serve New York City in this way,” Fields, 50, told the Daily News. “And coming in after Chief Bonsignore, those will be some incredibly big shoes to fill.”

Fields, a Brooklyn native, joined EMS two years before its merger with the FDNY in 1996. He started his career in EMS communications before becoming a medic and servicing people in Bedford Stuyvesant — in the community where he was raised.

“Seeing people you grew up with in bad situations and being able to assist them, that’s something I find a great deal of pleasure in,” he said. “I like to give back to the community.”

His career took him from Brooklyn to the Bronx, then to FDNY headquarters, where he worked toward recruiting new members. He met his wife, EMS Lieutenant Nikola Combs-Fields, while climbing the department ladder.

Their son, Michael Fields Jr., a Bronx EMT, joined FDNY EMS during the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Having his son among the agency’s rank-and-file helps keep him grounded, the chief said.

“I believe in the boots on the ground,” he said. “Before I make a decision from the top, I’m going to want to see how it will impact my co-workers on the bottom, because they’re the ones that will have to carry it out.”

Among Fields’ goals as the city’s newest EMS chief will be improving response times and FDNY diversity.

But none is more personal than improving the physical safety his first responders, a need that was driven home with the death of EMS Lt. Alison Russo in September.

Russo, who was posthumously promoted to captain, was fatally stabbed by a deranged man while on duty outside her Astoria, Queens EMS station.

She was the second member of FDNY EMS killed in the line of duty in five years. In 2017, Bronx EMT Yadira Arroyo was fatally mowed down by a career criminal who stole her ambulance.

“My number one priority is making sure that the people that work for me are safe,” said Fields, a father of four.

Even after 28 years in EMS, Fields humbly admits that there is still a lot that he needs to learn.

“The first thing I’m going to do is find out what I don’t know,” he said.

©2022 New York Daily News.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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