FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM JULY 23, 2019 • THE QUEENS COURIER 21
‘Front of the front line’: EMS honors its COVID-19 dead
BY WALTER S. ADLER
Whatever the “front of the front line is,”
that is where the women and men of EMS
Sometimes people hand you a dead blue
baby, and you have to do everything at
10,000 miles an hour. Sometimes you turn
up on a huge hysterical crowd where a
couple people were shot and are bleeding
Sometimes you have to deliver a baby in
a project stairwell. Sometimes you show up
to a tight asthmatic gagging ready to arrest.
Or you bring back a junkie, over and over
and over again. Th e same junkie. Or sometimes
you show up and someone was just
raped in a park. Or you show up and shots
are still being fi red or a building is still on
fi re and you have to stand across the street
in case someone who has been burned
alive gets carted out and thrown on your
You have to rely on your training. For an
EMT, three months; and for a paramedic,
one year. You had to feel and to care so
much to have even shown up for the training.
But to keep working, you have to learn
to un-feel and un-care and learn to forget.
You have to learn to drive with an effi -
ciency and speed that allows you to get to
these terrible moments quickly. You have to
carry with your partner 125 pounds of gear
up the stairs, or down a subway tunnel, over
the river or through the woods. You have to
bring the fi rst 30 minutes of the ER out to
EMS did this during Hurricane Sandy;
we did it on 9/11; and we did this for the
very worst fi ve weeks of the COVID-19
pandemic. We are made “diff erent” by how
much we bring, but also for being closest to
the danger of an emergency, we always are
bold. We leave no one behind.
It was like a vast invisible wave broke over
the city and suddenly everyone who was
elderly and everyone who was infi rm started
going into cardiac arrest.
It was like a natural disaster, except that
it wasn’t. Th ere was no clear epicenter or
limit to the contagion. Th ere was no sense
that the worst was ever over. Th ere was no
warm zone. Th ere was nowhere to retreat to
except sleep when you could get it.
Unlike all other “frontline” services, EMS
was running toward unpredictable death,
as usual with inadequate equipment, shortages
of everything, being compensated as
though it were all a summer job.
I remember very well the worst fi ve
weeks of the pandemic. Th ere we were with
our ambulances, our stretchers, our chairs
and our oxygen tanks, arriving at cardiac
arrest, aft er arrest, aft er arrest. Using
the same masks for weeks. Carrying men
and women out of their homes in our stair
chairs as they desaturated and respiratory
arrested right in front of us. In a city that
suddenly couldn’t breathe.
In the very worst period, those fi ve weeks
of total chaos, 20 percent of the FDNY
went out sick. Firefi ghters stopped going
out on medical calls, then going in much
much slower than usual. In that chaos, hundreds
of EMTs and paramedics came from
around the country, deployed to NYC to
manage a daily call volume above 7,000 a
day. All services took casualties, everyone
was thanked for their service. Th e pandemic
moved to other parts of the country.
Some we saved, many we did not.
Recently, as the smoke began to clear
from the pandemic — which killed more
than 22,000 New Yorkers — the Emergency
Medical Services counted our own dead.
So far there have been at least 17 active
duty deaths, and nine among EMS retirees.
Th irteen died from line-of-duty COVID-
19 exposure. Th ree were from out of town.
Several were 9/11 responders, men and
women with over 20 to 30 years in EMS.
Several worked at voluntary hospitals. Most
people in EMS, with or without a pension,
can’t actually aff ord to ever retire.
Four didn’t die from COVID-19 directly.
Th ey died from the bullets of a gun and
from drug addiction — two from overdoses,
and two commited suicide off the clock.
John Mondollo was a 23-year-old probationary
EMT at the FDNY EMS at Bathgate
Station 18 with less than three months on
the job. Matthew Keene was an FDNY EMS
Lieutenant, an experienced EMS Offi cer at
Station 17, the Highbridge Outpost.
Alexander Raso, a 24-year-old FDNY
EMT from Station 59, died from a drug
overdose in the very beginning of the
pandemic. Brandon Dorsa, a 36-year-old
FDNY EMT, was critically disabled when
his ambulance was struck and fl ipped over
in a collision in 2015. He was permanently
disabled, developed serious depression
and subsequently transferred to Dispatch.
His death, another an alleged suicide, was
reported on July 15.
We all have multiple jobs. We all work
50, 60 or 70 hours each week. Many of the
medics are in nursing or PA school, too. It
is that combination of high-stress, chaotic,
draining interactions, lack of any respect
and long long work weeks that does people
in. People abandon this fi eld the very minute
they can. Most quit this fi eld aft er only
Some go crazy from it. Th e rest, it changes
us probably for the very worst. Th e saying
goes “Don’t lose your civilian friends,”
but you do. And for some, 10 times the
national average, they give up. Th ey take
their own lives in one way or another.
EMS “deserves more” not because it
is stressful, or because it’s dangerous, or
because of how well we did during the pandemic.
We deserve more because of supply
and demand. More because we generate
profi ts. More because we do so much every
day for New York.
For the sixteen martyrs we lost, that we
know about, for the nine old time EMS
members who just passed for all the 13,500
men and women out right now on the
trucks as we speak, let’s renew our demand
for parity. Let’s be united as a service that
is resourceful, resilient and diverse as the
city we serve. We do as much or more as
any other uniformed civil servant. We’d like
to be paid like adults, to live in the city we
come from. Th e city we serve.
Paramedic Walter S. Adler is a 16 year veteran
of the Emergency Medical Services and a
Native New Yorker. He served the FDNY EMS
for 4 years and has served overseas in Israel,
Palestine, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq and Syria. He is
currently a 911 Paramedic with Montefi ore
EMS and BronxCare EMS in the Bronx.
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A fast worth a
BY ARAVELLA SIMOTAS
T h e
ed the public
York City has been shut down for over
120 days. Th ousands of New Yorkers
are left months behind on rent, with
no income to pay for food, diapers or
any basic resources needed to survive
Immigrant New Yorkers are the
backbone of New York’s economy, yet
they have been hit the hardest by the
pandemic. Both working on the frontlines
against the COVID-19 pandemic
and excluded from any federal or
state economic relief stimulus, immigrant
communities are deprived of the
necessities they need and deserve.
While hundreds of thousands of
New Yorkers and small businesses are
struggling to stay afl oat, billionaires’
collective wealth increased by over
$565B since the crisis began. We cannot
continue to ignore the mounting
costs of economic inequality — such
glaring disparity needs to be addressed
Th e Billionaire Wealth Tax/Worker
Bailout legislation (S8277 | A10414) is
a viable, responsible solution that can
raise over $5.5B to provide retroactive,
emergency income replacement for
workers who are excluded from unemployment
benefi ts. By ensuring that the
118 billionaires living in New York pay
their fair share, we can assist countless
working-class New Yorkers — many of
whom have sacrifi ced their own wellbeing
to allow the rest of us to practice
social distancing indoors — to survive.
I began a fast on July 16 at noon to
stand with countless immigrant day
laborers, domestic cleaners, food service
workers, clergy and my legislative
colleagues to demand that Governor
Cuomo #MakeBillionairesPay to
#FundExcludedWorkers. I encourage
all of my colleagues who have a role in
shaping public policy to attempt what I
did and see how far you get — experiencing
hunger really puts priorities in
perspective. It is my hope that the fast
that so many New Yorkers experienced
will amplify this cause, raise awareness,
and draw attention to the importance
of passing the Billionaire Wealth Tax/
We have failed our immigrant communities
for too long and it is past time
to make it right.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas
represents parts of western Queens,
including Astoria and parts of Long