As DC 37’s Emergency Medical Services unions continue to push City Hall to remedy the pay gap between their members and other first responders, union leaders are raising concerns about the growing number of assaults on the rank-and-file. According to NYC Fire Department statistics, the number of physical assaults on EMS workers increased by nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2018. Testifying before a City Council hearing in February, Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay warned that official data could understate the scope of the problem. “Many of our members don’t report assaults because of a lack of action by the Fire Department, the Police Department, and the District Attorneys,” he said. “It builds on a tradition of inaction.”
New Yorkers were shocked and saddened in March 2017 when EMT Yadira Arroyo was killed by an assailant in the Bronx. According to FDNY statistics, there were 166 assaults that year. EMS union leaders say that members have also been spat upon by sick patients, which makes them vulnerable to communicable diseases. “You know the person is sick,” Barzilay said. “He has blood all over and now he spits in your face and it’s gotten into your eyes, your mucus membrane. Your life could be over from that incident.”
In 2015, the state legislature passed a bill that established a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone assaulting on-duty emergency medical services personnel. Meanwhile, the pay parity fight continues. Barzilay and EMS Officers Local 3621 President Vincent Variale argue that their members should be viewed as part of the uniformed services workforce and receive the same pay and benefits as police officers and firefighters. They have taken out ads in city newspapers to promote their case.
Some elected officials have publicly stated their support for pay parity. City Council member Justin Brannan recently tweeted: “…my priority is making sure EMS workers get the pay and benefits they deserve. We cannot pit first responders against each other. Period.”