Hundreds of NYC firefighters, EMTs out sick as coronavirus cases explode

Hospital workers remove another body to their refrigerator truck. EMS will no longer bring cardiac patients who are not breathing to the overburdened hospitals. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

The FDNY reported Friday that 376 of its members have positive for COVID-19, with 17% of firefighters and 24% of emergency medical service members reporting out on medical leave.

Most of them are recovering at home, according to New York City Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro, but at least one of the infected is in critical condition and had to be intubated to breathe. 

Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics are on the front lines of the coronavirus battle in New York, as they respond to 911 calls of individuals in medical distress. 

With hospitals inundated with coronavirus patients, the FDNY has changed its policy with regarding transportation patients in cardiac arrest. Crews are being instructed not to bring a cardiac arrest patient to the hospital if they cannot quickly revive their pulse or resuscitate their breathing.

“We are not going to bring them to the hospital if there is nothing more they can do,” Nigro said in a CNN interview April 3. “This is a life-and-death decision and if we can’t get a patient breathing in 20 minutes, we cannot bring them to the hospital if there is nothing more we can do for them.”

The federal government added 500 medical technicians, both EMTs and paramedics with 250 ambulances to their ranks. The FDNY is also augmented by private ambulance and volunteer ambulance squads throughout the city.

Nigro said in the CNN interview that more ventilators and PPEs will be necessary not just next week, “but for the next month.” He said he was concerned for his EMS crews even as the FDNY is “following the guidelines of the Department of Health and the CDC on protection, but we are dealing with very sick people each and every day.”

Nigro said emergency call volume is up by 50% over the average. He said he is grateful to the FEMA for providing the 500 additional medical responders “mostly young people from every state, very overworked on 16 hours tours.”

The fire commissioner urged the public to stay home — and not to call EMS unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“We need the public if not necessary to go out, to stay home and stop the spread,” Nigro said.  “We have 2000 members out on medical leave and this like nothing we’ve ever seen. So please stay home.”

Firefighters and EMS workers take precautions at a sick case earlier this month. (Photo by Todd Maisel)