The Fire Department of the City of New York has ordered firefighters to stop responding to calls involving potential coronavirus symptoms.
The order issued on Friday directs firefighters to stop supporting EMS paramedics and EMTs on 911 calls involving coughing, fever, difficulty breathing or possible asthma attacks, the New York Daily News reported.
FDNY firefighters all have certified first responder medical training, and they often respond to medical calls to support ambulance units by helping with crowd control or initial medical intervention such as CPR.
Now, as New York declares a state of emergency with the number of coronavirus cases in the state spiking to 89, FDNY firefighters are being held in reserve in an apparent attempt to slow the potential spread of the virus among key emergency personnel.
FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer told the Daily News that the order was a move to prioritize resources amid the outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
‘Firefighters continue to respond to the highest-priority medical calls, whether they are potential COVID-19 calls or not, including Segment 1 incidents, cardiac and respiratory arrests, choking and trauma incidents,’ he said.
Segment 1 calls are the highest priority calls, and the new order refers only to lower-priority Segment 2 calls.
The city’s ambulance service is operated by the FDNY EMS Command, and staffed by paramedics and EMTs who have long complained that they are lower paid than firefighters.
The union representing paramedics and EMTs is furious at the move, saying that ambulance crews are being used as the ‘canary in the coal mine.’
The city’s ambulance service is operated by the FDNY EMS Command, and staffed by paramedics and EMTs who have long complained that they are lower paid than firefighters
‘EMS is once again on the front lines as the city deals with the coronavirus outbreak,’ Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the union of EMTs and paramedics, told the Daily News.
‘Our members will go into the hot zone of people who might be infected. That is our job and we are faced with these kinds of dangers and others every day.’
‘It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public, and it won’t be the last. It’s important now more than ever for the mayor to acknowledge the work we do,’ he stated.
Department sources said the move was likely spurred by a fear of having to quarantine an entire firehouse if a firefighter tested positive for coronavirus, potentially crippling the city’s emergency response capabilities.