First Responders on Front Lines of Coronavirus War in New York City

AM New York - March 18, 2020

by Todd Maisel

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A call came over the fire radio for a “sick case” in Brooklyn for firefighters and emergency medical technicians with instructions to “utilize universal precautions.” This meant protective gear to safeguard against potentially contracting contagious novel coronavirus.

Firefighters from Engine 249 responded as the “certified first responders” (CFR) along with two city ambulance crews and a lieutenant where they received report of a woman who was sick and possible fever at 601 Albany Avenue in East Flatbush. They had no way to know why this person in her 60’s was ill or whether she had the deadly COVID-19. They would take no chances.

Firefighters and their EMS partners darned protective masks, white or blue plastic or linen gowns to cover their uniforms, white protective booties, and rubber gloves. Some wore plastic coverings over the faces for close up work. Despite the threats to themselves, all went in, but worked smartly and carefully to determine what was going on.

One firefighter said, “This is the first one I’ve been on. We are not taking chances.”

Firefighters remained in the building for about 15 minutes until it was determined that it could be handled by EMS alone. When firefighters emerged they removed their protective plastic aprons, gloves, masks and deposited them into a red bag for hazardous disposal.

After about 20 minutes, EMS crews, both paramedics and EMT’s brought the woman down on a chair. At the entrance to the ambulance, the woman began to throw up on the street, but EMT’s stayed near her to provide comfort. She was then loaded up to go to Kings County Hospital where the Emergency Room would be notified of her imminent arrival.

“Anytime we hear a cardiac or any sick case, we take all precautions, whether suspected or not,” said one paramedic. “When dealing with patients, we’re taking no chances. So far, people have been good about calling 911 unless really sick, its been busy – after a while, it takes a toll on you.”

“We all take universal precautions – the city doesn’t want anyone taking chances,” he continued. “It stinks that we have to do this, but hopefully, we can get this whole thing taken care of before too many people get hurt an sick.”

Outside on the street, an EMS lieutenant was complimenting his crews on their work.

“Sometimes people get skittish, but these guys weren’t – they stayed steady. They were real professionals,” he said.

But another paramedic replied, “Hey, it’s what we do each day.”

Only a week ago, an EMT was diagnosed as having coronavirus from Station 25 at Coney Island Hospital. This past weekend, a fire captain from the 43rd Battalion on West 8th Street in Coney Island was also diagnosed with coronavirus and a number of firefighters were also asked to self quarantine as a result.

The unions representing New York City’s firefighters yesterday called on the city on Monday to administer tests to its first responders, as the number of civil service members testing positive for coronavirus grows.At least 100 other firefighters remain under quarantine citywide. Union leaders from of the firefighters and EMS union say their members need to be tested to prevent community spread, which could lead to further public safety risks.