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FDNY EMS unions at odds over EMT sergeant position

The Uniformed EMS Officers Union says the “Supervising Emergency Medical Service Specialist” position carries lieutenant responsibilities with less pay


FDNY EMTs Kim Benson and Chris Feliciano carry equipment out of an ambulance outside the home of a Covid-19 patient in Queens in 2020.

Angus Mordant

By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A new position for FDNY emergency medical technicians looking for a bump in rank and pay is sparking a disagreement between the two unions that fight for the rights of EMS employees.

More than 1,500 city EMTs have already signed up to take the test for the new “Supervising Emergency Medical Service Specialist” position — or EMT sergeant — which comes with an increased salary, department officials said.

The union representing rank-and-file EMTs is excited about the new rung on the FDNY’s promotion ladder.

But members of the officer’s union see the sergeant’s job as a way for the city to get EMS lieutenants on the cheap. The Uniformed EMS Officers Union says the sergeant position would pay less than the lieutenants position, even though it would carry the same responsibilities.

“There’s a lot of confusion on what these sergeants will do and what a lieutenant already does,” said Vincent Variale, the president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union.

“Right now, it looks like their tasks are going to be the same as a lieutenant, which is not part of any agreement. But they’ll be getting about $15,000 less,” Variale said, comparing the two jobs’ salary and benefit packages.

The city created the new position earlier this year after discussing the issue with both the EMS Officers Union and Local 2507, which represents rank-and-file EMTs and paramedics.

The unions asked for this new EMT rank, FDNY officials said.

“The creation of this (position) was part of a collective bargaining agreement,” FDNY spokeswoman Amanda Farinacci said. “The name of the (Sergeant) title and salary are reflective of conversations with the union.”

In May, the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services began taking applications for the new position. A written test for the job was first scheduled for August, but has since been bumped to October, city officials said.

According to the city, EMT sergeants will “supervise assigned units in the rendering of appropriate pre-hospital emergency medical care” as well as oversee inspection of ambulances and equipment and schedule and assign EMTs, according to the DCAS notice for the upcoming examination.

The salary for EMT Sergeants begins at $68,000, according to DCAS. Currently entry-level EMTs are paid a base salary of $39,386, which rises to $59,534 after five years.

EMTs can take the sergeant’s exam as long as they have completed probation and have served with EMS for two years, according to DCAS.

There are only 100 slots available for the first wave of EMT sergeants, so only 6% of the 1,500 applicants taking the test will get the job.

Still Oren Barzilay, the president of Local 2507, is excited about the new position and encouraged his members to sign up for the test.

“This is a positive move for us and also includes a pay increase that our members can use,” Barzilay told the Daily News. “I am telling our members to take any and all opportunities that the department is making available to us. We need more promotional opportunities for our EMTs.”

At one time, EMS had an EMT supervisor rank, but the department disbanded the position a few years ago, Barzilay said.

It’s easier to become a sergeant than an EMS lieutenant. Before becoming a lieutenant, EMTs have to first become a paramedic, which requires weeks of additional training and coursework. Paramedic training won’t be required of sergeants.

EMS employees have been historically underpaid compared with FDNY firefighters and other city first responders since they merged with the department in 1996, union officials say.

The pay gaps between the two groups continue to this day, even though the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2021 determined that EMTs and paramedics work just as hard as their firefighting counterparts.

Following that report — which stated that “workloads, working conditions, training, and risks to EMS first responders and firefighters are comparable, with a substantial degree of overlapping duties” — the federal government recommended that the city resolve the massive salary disparities between its firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Last month, Barzilay bashed Mayor Adams’ decision to bump up the salary for city deliveristas, claiming that by next year app-based delivery workers will be making more than an EMT responding to emergency calls.

“Is the message that the city government values speedy delivery of bagels, fast food and pizza more than its medical professionals saving lives of other New Yorkers?” Barzilay asked in a scathing letter to Adams at the time.

Variale said questions over the exact duties of the new EMT sergeant is one of the issues holding up contract negotiations with the city.

While the FDNY says the position was hammered out through contract negotiations, Variale said the agreement was never signed and two recent meetings to discuss the new position were cancelled.

But the city went ahead and started signing up people for the test anyway, Variale said.

DC 37, the parent union for EMS officers, filed complaints with the Office of Collective Bargaining and the state Civil Service Commission regarding the new rank, claiming that there is no agreement and the current terms were created through “bad faith negotiations,” Variale said.

Originally, EMT sergeants were supposed to work the mobile BHeard units that respond to calls regarding emotionally distburbed patients and not work in stations or respond to 911 calls, Variale said.

Lieutenants handle scheduling, station operations and field operations, including responding to 911 calls, he said.

With the new sergeant’s duties being so open-ended, it appears the city is looking to replace lieutenants with lower paid sergeants, Variale stated.

Due to retirements and attrition, EMS is short about 90 lieutenants, he said.

“It seems more like a cost-cutting measure than anything else,” Variale said. “EMS is one of the most efficient and lowest paid first responder services in the country. It’s ridiculous that we’re constantly getting cut to the bone.

“It boggles the mind, we save lives,” he said. “I’m hoping the Mayor who supported EMS during his campaign can resolve this problem.”

FDNY officials said the role of the EMT Sergeant is clear cut, and doesn’t overlap with a lieutenant’s duties.

“The job duties of this position are clearly laid out in our agreement with the union and there is no intent to use these positions in a way that’s inconsistent with that agreement,” Farinacci said.

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