Medal honoring murdered FDNY EMS Lt. awarded to colleague
EMS Captain Edgar Baez and Lieutenant Alison Russo used to respond to calls together in the Bronx decades ago
By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — A new FDNY medal honoring a murdered EMS officer Alison Russo will be awarded Wednesday to a longtime co-worker who from his post at a 911 dispatch office desperately worked to save her life the Daily News has learned.
EMS Captain Edgar Baez was monitoring his team at the FDNY’s Public Safety Answering Center 2 in the Bronx on the afternoon of Sept. 29 when several 911 calls coming out of Astoria, Queens, flashed on his screen in rapid succession.
One read “Code 34K” meaning someone had just been stabbed. The next alert almost made his heart stop: “Firefighter stabbed.”
Baez immediately had his team alert all available units and supervisors, asking them to race to the scene. He also reached out to the FDNY’s Fire Department Operations Center and helped to organize a massive mobile response in a matter of seconds.
It quickly became clear that it wasn’t a firefighter who was stabbed. It was EMS Lt. Alison Russo, the beloved “mother hen” of EMS Station 49 who a maniac had knifed more than 20 times in a grisly, unprovoked attack.
“It came over as a stabbing of a firefighter, maybe an officer, but FDNY officers and EMS officers pretty much wear the same uniform,” Baez recalled. “When the first EMS units arrived, they recognized her as the officer from (Station 49). The crew that discovered her... she had issued them their equipment just moments before.”
Russo was treated almost immediately, but her wounds were too great. She died at Mount Sinai Medical Center-Queens. At her funeral, she was posthumously promoted to captain.
The rapid response, thanks to Baez and his team, was crucial in getting help for Russo. It also helped first responders lock down the area and capture Peter Zisopoulis, who was charged in Russo’s murder.
Russo and Baez used to race to emergency calls together from Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx more than two decades ago.
“She started a year after I did,” Baez recalled. Even as both EMTs became officers, they kept in touch and would run into each other in the field.
The two will be forever linked Wednesday when Baez becomes the first recipient of the FDNY’s “Captain Alison Russo North Star Medal” during the FDNY’s Medal Day ceremony at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Corona, Queens.
The special award “recognizes an FDNY EMS officer who, in the performance of duty, performs an act of distinguished bravery and stamina under adverse or extreme conditions,” FDNY officials said, adding that Baez’s “26 years of experience and dedication served the department incredibly well on this call.
“He is known for his hands-on leadership style,” the FDNY noted.
“In this case, his instincts, knowledge and extensive experience as an officer who leads from in front were greatly appreciated.”
Baez, 48, was surprised to learn that he would be the first recipient of the Russo award.
“I was wondering, ‘Why me?’” he remembered. “I was working that day, but everything that occurs happens as part of a team at dispatch.”
Baez remembered getting quite emotional when he was told he was going to be honored this way.
“Many people tell me it’s well deserved, but I didn’t do it alone,” he said. “And I guess me knowing her personally and with what happened — it was just hard to accept.”
Yet he will proudly accept the award in honor of Russo and the team he worked with that fateful day, he said.
If Russo knew there would be an award in her honor, she likely would have rolled her eyes, Baez said.
“She’d be like, ‘Are you serious?’” Baez joked. “But she worked in the field and for the good of the crew she put out every day.
“That’s the role of an officer,” he said. “To make sure everything is OK and safe for your members.”