Low pay driving out FDNY EMS providers, union says

One union leader said 75% of the city's EMS workforce has less than five years of experience due to high turnover


Irene Spezzamonte
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

NEW YORK — Low wages for emergency medical services workers are driving away experienced first responders and creating a dangerous situation for city residents, union leaders and politicians warn.

Vincent Variale, the president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union, said the FDNY is suffering a high turnover for EMS workers, mostly caused by a low starting salary.

Union officials say low pay is driving out EMS providers at the FDNY, leading to a less experienced workforce and putting public safety at risk. (Photo/FDNY Facebook)
Union officials say low pay is driving out EMS providers at the FDNY, leading to a less experienced workforce and putting public safety at risk. (Photo/FDNY Facebook)

“When EMS first responders are paid less than what it costs to live in the city they serve, it impacts the morale,” Variale said. “Ironically, one of the reasons the de Blasio Administration says they can’t fix this problem is that it will cost too much.”

An FDNY EMS officer’s salary starts at $33,320, about $16 per hour, reaching $47,685 after five years in the department, according to publicly-available data.

In addition, union leaders argue that the amount of work has increased every year.

In 2019 alone, FDNY EMS responded to 1,531,870 medical emergencies – about 4,197 calls a day or 175 calls per hour, according to FDNY data.

“What is the value of expertise, longevity and experience of EMS personnel responding to the public when they need life-saving services?” Variale added.

Oren Barzilay, the president of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors union, said that currently 75% of the workforce has less than five years of experience.

“We have wonderful recruits who come here to start their medical careers and simply cannot afford to stay. They cannot afford the rent, taxes, cost of commuting on the lowest wage scale imaginable in the entire medical industry,” Barzilay said. “New York City leaders must put an end to this horrible brain drain that is clearly dangerous to human life.”

Ultimately, the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations has the last word on how and when to raise EMT salaries.

Laura Feyer, a deputy press secretary at the mayor’s office, said that the salary for FDNY EMS personnel is competitive with salaries in the private sector, adding that salaries and benefits are both better overall for FDNY EMTs and paramedics when compared to their private sector counterparts.

“No administration has done more to bring workers to the table. The work of our Emergency Medical Services professionals is crucial to the safety of New Yorkers and we are proud of all that they do,” Feyer said. “As we have in the past, we will work with the union to reach a deal that is fair for both their members and New York City taxpayers.”

Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore), the chair of the New York City Council Fire & Emergency Management Committee, presided over a Council meeting on Jan. 28 during which multiple EMS union leaders testified.

“The administration struggled to answer basic questions,” Borelli told the Advance about the meeting.

Borelli added the high turnover in the department is causing a shortage of personnel, which forces those who do remain in the department to work extremely long hours of overtime.

“We lose people after we have spent time and money training them,” Borelli said.

The demand for additional tours keeps growing as a lot of private hospitals slowly cease operating their own ambulances and FDNY EMS has to cover those routes, Borelli explained in a phone interview.

“There is more than likelihood that when you call an ambulance and an FDNY ambulance pulls up it’s going to be someone with less than one year experience,” Borelli said. “Like any other job, experience leads to a better outcome.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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