Bronx sees increase in 911 calls amid shrinking EMT, ambulance fleets

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The union representing the city’s Emergency Medical Services personnel is sounding the alarm over an increased volume of 911 calls alongside shrinking ambulance fleets and widespread understaffing. 

Oren Barzilay, who has served as president of FDNY Local 2507 for the past seven years, told the Bronx Times that he grew up in Forest Hills with an ambulance staging area just outside his building, so emergency work always felt within reach. In high school, he took an EMS course and joined the FDNY EMS in 1995.

But even after all those years, his job now feels more disheartening than ever.

“Conditions are horrible, the stress is through the roof,” he said.

One major problem, according to Barzilay, is the low pay.

“We have a workforce that is disrespected by our city, to a point where our wages are poverty wages,” he said.

According to Barzilay, the starting salary for Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) is $18 per hour, about $39,000 per year. 

In contrast, the NYPD starting salary is $58,580 and more than doubles to $121,589 after only 5 ½ years. FDNY starting salary is $43,904 and can increase to over $100,000 after five years when factoring in overtime and holiday pay. 

But beyond salary, another problem is that more and more calls for serious emergencies are coming in — with fewer and fewer crews and ambulances available to respond. 

Over the past two years, the Bronx saw a 15.3% increase in 911 calls — the second highest increase among the five boroughs. A total of 146,179 life-threatening emergencies were reported in the Bronx in 2023, compared to 126,826 in 2021.

But all boroughs saw an increase in 911 calls: Brooklyn saw a 15.7% increase and there were increases of 12.7% in Manhattan, 10.7% in Queens and 8% in Staten Island. 

Despite these increases, Barzilay said, the city appears to be taking resources away  — especially in the Bronx — instead of allocating more.

A Bronx EMS station, called the Bronx TRG at 1647 Washington Ave., was shut down just last month, he said, further decreasing the number of available crews in the borough. 

The result is easy to see, Barzilay said: the Bronx dispatch center is the busiest and most backed-up in the city — the only one where “you can see calls just waiting to be answered.” 

Data from the Preliminary 2024 Mayor’s Management Report shows that end-to-end average ambulance response times are indeed increasing, from 9 minutes and 34 seconds in 2021 to 10 minutes and 17 seconds in 2022 to 10 minutes and 43 seconds in 2023. 

At the same time, the city’s ambulance fleet shrunk last year by 11% — about 50 ambulances — leading to increased response times in situations where mere minutes can be the difference between life and death.

The public is apparently noticing these delays. Emergency responders are sometimes assaulted by people angry over long wait times, said Barzilay, and situations like these mean that low morale is taking a serious toll. The union has seen nine suicides over the past three years and two members killed on the job. 

“People resign every day from this job,” Barzilay said. “They realize that there’s no hope, there’s no future here.”

And Barzilay said these conditions are no accident: he believes discrimination is at play. He said women make up 30% of his workforce and a high percentage are people of color, whereas the FDNY has a well-documented diversity problem. The City Council reported in 2022 that 98% of firefighters are male and 54% are white. 

The union represented by Barzilay filed a federal class action lawsuit against the city and FDNY with accusations of pay discrimination. But at the local level, Barzilay said people in the Bronx must complain to their community boards and elected officials to demand more resources for the borough. 

Until change happens, the outlook for his profession is grim.

“We’re not providing the public the medical service that they deserve,” Barzilay said.

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes