EMS Week shines visibility on city’s paramedics and their fight for higher pay, safer work conditions

EMS Week
EMS Week, which included an EMS Empowerment Drive beginning at Orchard Beach on Sunday, May 22, called for safer worker conditions and higher wages.
Photo Adrian Childress

Last week’s EMS Week brought much-needed visibility for New York’s emergency medical services, which are dealing with over-exhaustion of their workforce and a rise in assaults since the pandemic. Over the weekend, a caravan of New York’s paramedics and emergency personnel drove through the Five Boroughs — converging on Queens’ Flushing Meadows Park — calling for higher pay and safer worker conditions.

Roughly 70,000 EMS professionals across New York state respond to more than 3.5 million calls for care per year, including providing emergency medical services to more than 150,000 ill or injured children each year. However, their pay has stagnated — despite reaching an agreement with the city to boost salaries last fall — behind their peers in the NYPD and FDNY.

Under the agreement, starting salaries for an EMT will be $39,385, still far less than their firefighter counterparts, where base pay is around $44,030.

According to FDNY EMS Local 2507, the wage increase, which is determined by years of seniority, will be funded via EMS members working an extra 130 hours annually, going from a scheduled 37.5-hour week to a 40-hour week.

The starting salaries for EMTs include fringe benefits, and after five years, those workers will earn $68,700. The union added that, comparatively, a firefighter’s starting salary is $45,196, and after five years, the firefighter will more than double their salary to earn $110,294.

The agreement, which expires next month, covers FDNY EMTs, paramedics and the agency’s fire inspectors.

Union members tell the Bronx Times that FDNY EMS is facing a significant employee retention crisis, with 50% of EMTs quitting after just three years on the job and 70% leaving for other jobs and careers by the fifth year.

During the height of winters’ COVID omicron wave, New York state bolstered the EMS workforce with the development of the 2022 pilot EMS academy training program that trained more than 400 New York National Guard members and 200 civilians as Emergency Medical Technicians in under eight weeks.

Last summer, NYC, faced with an EMS shortage, piloted its first “Earn While Learn” program at West Bronx’s Hunter Ambulance, graduating 80 soon-to-be paramedics into an EMS workforce that is in the midst of a “crisis-level” labor shortage.

Additionally, attacks and assaults on the city’s emergency medical service workers have skyrocketed 137% from 2018 through last year, according to data sent to the Bronx Times. In 2018, 160 paramedics were attacked, and in 2021, more than 380 attacks were reported.

Global Medical Response and Hunter Ambulance celebrated a new batch of graduate EMTs in Queens during a ceremony at CUNY LaGuardia on May 2.

The graduating class includes representatives from Queens, the Bronx, Long Island and Westchester, as well as the 1,000th graduate from the national program overall. The program has been a rousing success across the area after AMR and its parent company, Global Medical Response, acquired Hunter Ambulance last summer. EMTs who graduate from the program will be eligible to work for AMR, Hunter Ambulance or Crowd Rx, which provides high-profile EMS services at New York City sites and landmarks such as Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford authorized EMS Week to celebrate EMS practitioners and the important work they do in our nation’s communities. National Emergency Medical Services Week brings together local communities and medical personnel to honor the dedication of those who provide the day-to-day lifesaving services of medicine’s front line.

EMS Week ran from May 15-May 21.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes