COVID causes FDNY EMS Average Response Times to Spike

Oct 3, 2020

FDNY workers are dealing with unprecedented conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic
Credit FDNY

Unions warn layoffs would further delay ambulances arrival as WBGO News Director Doug Doyle talks with Reporter Bob Hennelly. 

DOYLE: As New York City continues to double down on its efforts to head off a second surge of the coronavirus, statistics just released show what a serious toll the initial wave of the virus had on the FDNY’s response times to life threatening medical emergencies. With us now is WBGO’s Bob Hennelly, who covers the New York City Fire Department for the Chief Leader to go over the numbers and discuss their implications. Thanks for joining us Bob. So, what’s the source for this information, and what are the top line data points that grabbed your eye?

HENNELLY: Well Doug, this is all based on the Mayor’s Management Report which is put out annually and ranks the performance of all city agencies. And the data point I was most shocked by was the end to end response time for FDNY EMT ambulances. That is the time it takes from when a call first comes from a caller seeking an ambulance and when it arrives. What we saw in fiscal year 2020, which just ended in June, was that on average that was taking 10:19 ---almost a full minute more than the year before.

DOYLE: What do officials attribute that spike in response times to?

FDNY responding to an emergency
Credit FDNY

HENNELLY: According to the Mayor’s Management Report there was an unprecedented demand on the EMS system during the peak months of the COVID crisis and that was exacerbated by high levels of medical leave which we talked about among EMS employees. “At its peak more than a quarter of the FDNY EMS paramedic workforce—that’s about 4,000 people, were on medical leave resulting in a reduction of ambulances in the field,” and that’s a direct quote. And so, there was a combination of this increased patient volume and that the hospitals themselves were also overwhelmed.

DOYLE: What have you been hearing from the firefighters and paramedics who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic? Do they have some ideas from how to improve on these response times?

HENNELLY: What I am hearing from the unions, particularly Local 2507, which represents the paramedics, and Local 3621, which represents EMS officers, is that the city can’t afford to move ahead what was reported as 400 layoffs. That would be ten percent of the EMS workforce and if we have bad response times now, a ten percent workforce reduction would be catastrophic. Add in that at the end of the reporting period, New York City was helped out by 250 ambulances from around the United States funded by FEMA. So, the unions would make the argument now is not the time to cut back at all. The other thing I am hearing from firefighters and EMTs is that the city needs to develop a better way of triaging these calls. One of the things I hear often is that EMTS and fire companies are also responding to non-life-threatening events. That can be a problem if it’s a fire company, who often arrive ahead of EMS, and it can be a situation, unlike when they have to administer CPR, where they are stuck on the scene until an EMT arrives. In the meantime, a fire alarm could come in for a structural fire and that could spell real trouble.

DOYLE: The last time we spoke Mayor de Blasio still had plans to lay off 22,000 city workers, including some first responders. Where is that issue now?

Response times are being impacted by COVID-19
Credit FDNY

HENNELLY: Initially, he said that they could happen any day. There is a requirement the city notice the unions 30 days before these layoffs could take place and Oct. 1 was the actual day when these layoffs were supposed to take place. The Mayor put that in abeyance after the Municipal Labor Committee asked for him to hold off. There are ongoing talks between the city and the unions and most importantly, the unions are pressing the city’s case up in Albany to increase the city’s borrowing capacity by $5 billion. And there is some sign in the last couple of days, that Speaker Pelosi has managed to get some movement on another round of stimulus for local, city, county, and state government. That is one of the things that Mayor de Blasio has said he would have to have in hand in order to put off the layoffs. Now, Speaker Pelosi has tried to jump start negotiations with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by cutting in half her original request for city, local and state aid. It is now somewhere shy of $500 billion. But the bottom line is this really can’t wait until the election. If there isn’t something forthcoming from Washington what you will see is a continuing of the layoffs that we have already seen with some one and a half million public workers laid off right at the time we are trying to brace for a second wave of the pandemic.

DOYLE: As always, thanks for joining the WBGO Journal.