It’s called the FDNY — but most of its emergencies have nothing to do with serious fires.
The overwhelming majority of 911 calls to the FDNY in 2018 fell squarely on the backs of the department’s Emergency Medical Services units, according to new data obtained by the Daily News.
The FDNY handled a record 1.8 million calls last year — a figure that includes deadly fires, life-threatening medical issues, cats stuck in trees, people stuck in elevators and everything in between.
Of those, EMS handled the bulk: 1.5 million — an astonishing workload difference when compared with the call volume for actual fires, which didn’t even reach 50,000 in 2018.
The year-end numbers are particularly relevant in light of the recent flare-up between EMS personnel and Mayor de Blasio, who last month justified EMS workers’ lower pay by calling their jobs “different” than those of higher-paid firefighters.
“I have deep, deep respect for our EMTs and everyone who works at EMS,” de Blasio said in remarks reported by The Chief-Leader, a newspaper that serves the city’s civil servants.
“I think the work is different,” de Blasio said. “We are trying to make sure people are treated fairly and paid fairly but I do think the work is different.”
City Hall reiterated its position Saturday when contacted by The News for a response to the 2018 data.
“We value the heroic work our EMS personnel and firefighters do every day on behalf of New Yorkers. The mayor believes in fairness, but the jobs are different and we’re confident we’ll find a common ground,” said spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg.
“They are, literally, different jobs,” she added, when asked in a follow-up question to define the distinctions that justify the pay gap, which in some cases runs to over $50,000.
The response really burned the two unions that represent EMS rank-and-file and officers.
“We are different. We are the highest-trained and lowest-paid first responders who make a difference,” said Vincent Variale, head of the EMS officers union.
The FDNY has in recent years tried to balance both the job burden and the city’s urgent need for super-speedy EMS response by having medically trained fire companies dispatched to top-priority 911 calls, such as cardiac arrests.
Of the almost 620,000 calls firefighters handled in 2018 — a record-high for the FDNY’s fire side — 300,000 were for life-threatening medical emergencies that EMS responded to as well.
At the same time, the city EMS teams have been absorbed into its network of first responders. EMTs and paramedics are now trained to participate in active-shooter situations, terrorist attacks, biohazard incidents and more — on top of responding to all the fires, car accidents, shootings and other traumas that occur around the five boroughs day to day. In addition, EMS crews are constantly taking antibiotic cocktails to combat their frequent exposure to contagious diseases — yet they are only given 12 sick days a year by the city.
And their pay has not risen in line with the workload, data show.
EMT base salaries start around $30,000 a year and cap at $51,000 after five years, according to city records. Paramedics, who have more medical training, start at $45,000 and stop at $64,000 in the fifth year.
Firefighters are pulling in $110,000 after five years on the job. Police officers are similarly compensated, as are correction officers and sanitation workers. All of them enjoy unlimited sick leave.
“When we respond to a job, it’s not to save property or structures. We are saving lives,” said Oren Barzilay, president of the union that represents EMTs and paramedics. “All jobs have special value and we are proud of what our counterparts in other agencies do for the city. This is not about taking anything away from any of them. It’s about being fair to us.”
Firefighters did handle a record-number of calls on their own in 2018 as well, FDNY numbers indicate.
In 2018, the FDNY’s fire suppression side quenched 27,000 structural fires — about 500 more than the year before. Of those, nearly 2,000 were considered “serious fires,” meaning additional fire companies were needed to get the flames under control. Fire deaths were also up for the third year in row: 87 in 2018, compared to 73 and 48 for the last two years.
Non-medical emergencies, such as utility problems, stuck elevators or car accidents, accounted for 256,000 firefighter calls, along with nearly 22,000 malicious false alarms and almost 14,000 minor fires, such as a pot burning on a stove or some other type of small blaze that was put out before the cavalry arrived.
Even so, it paled in comparison to the demand on EMS. Within the 1.5 million emergencies it handled — a 4.6% increase from the year before — more than 500,000 were coded as life-threatening, according to FDNY data published by the City Council.