FDNY Creates EMS Units for Mass Casualty Situations

NY Daily News - April 14, 2017

by GINGER ADAMS OTIS

The FDNY has beefed up its preparedness for mass casualty incidents by creating special EMS units equipped to enter danger zones and triage victims on the spot — even if police haven’t yet secured the area, the Daily News has learned.

The 25-member task force units came about as a result of the Nov. 13, 2015 atrocities in Paris, the Fire Department said.

Armed terrorists in combined attacks around Paris killed 130 people — including 89 inside a nightclub as shooters engaged in an hours-long standoff.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that tragedy — combined with the June 12 massacre of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub by lone shooter Omar Mateen — changed the way the department thought about mass casualty incidents.

In both those terrorist attacks, emergency medical responders were unable to immediately get to wounded people — some of whom might have been saved by prompt treatment.

“It was clear the FDNY must train closely with the NYPD to enhance the city’s response to these deadly incidents. Our members stand ready to enter dangerous areas — under NYPD protection — to quickly remove and treat critically injured patients,” Nigro said.

The FDNY has created five borough task forces — with 75 members equipped to respond to terrorist and other mass casualty incidents per borough.

Each borough task force unit has three fire officers, three EMS officers, 12 firefighters, six EMS members and one battalion chief.

The units are modeled after the FDNY’s Hazardous-Material Task Forces — which have tiered responsibilities.

But the new FDNY task forces are unique in that they include EMS workers who will enter what are known as "warm zones," -- coming behind police to help treat victims or move them to safety, even before the area has been cleared of danger.

The FDNY purchased military-grade protective equipment for its EMS officers and the paramedics and emergency medical technicians who have been tapped for the high-intensity job.

Each task force member gets a tan-colored bullet-proof vest and a full-combat helmet.

The FDNY bought more than 600 of the FBI-approved ballistic vests, which are tested against both handguns and long guns.

For major city events — like New Year’s Eve, major parades and annual celebrations — the FDNY will only activate a 25-member unit as a precautionary measure. But it has the capacity to deploy more as needed.

When the units need to go into action, they break into “entry teams.” Each entry team has a fire officer, one EMS officer, four firefighters and two EMS members. Four strategic response NYPD cops go with the entry team for protection.

The FDNY first tested its task force program during the Sept. 17 bombing in Chelsea. With the threat of a second bomb in the same area, the EMS workers moved in to clear the wounded from the area.

Vincent Variale, president of the EMS Officers Union Local 3621, said his members were more than willing to take on the added responsibility. But he also noted that unlike haz-mat units, they weren’t offered extra compensation for the extra risk.

Israel Miranda, head of EMS Local 2507, which represents paramedics and EMTs, said his workers were going to be deployed to "maintain airways and stop critical bleeding" and were prepared to do it even in danger zones.