FDNY EMS remembered at new museum at Fort Totten

People tour the new Emergency Medical Service Museum at Fort Totten in Queens. The museum recalls the history of pre-hospital care from horse drawn ambulances to the present day.
People tour the new Emergency Medical Service Museum at Fort Totten in Queens. The museum recalls the history of pre-hospital care from horse drawn ambulances to the present day. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

It was an emotional reunion and a ribbon cutting at the same time on Friday afternoon at Fort Totten, when FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro and a host of emergency medical service officers took gold scissors to ribbon and reopened an expanded and upgraded museum that celebrates New York City paramedics and emergency medical technicians.

Around 100 former rescue workers drove or flew from as far as Florida and Michigan to attend the reopening of the only museum in New York City that chronologically displays how FDNY’s EMS grew.

The NYC EMS Museum, located on the grounds of Fort Totten in Bayside, shows how New York City’s pre-hospital care started in 1869, with two horse-drawn ambulances and grew to be the busiest provider of ambulance care in the world.

Currently FDNY EMS responds to more than 1.4 million calls a year, raging from bee stings to burns to cardiac arrests.

“Remembering history and honoring those who came before us are celebrated traditions of the FDNY,” Nigro said. “The rededication of this museum is a testament of our tradition and we look forward to sharing the history and tenacity of our dedicated members.”

The museum, conceived and designed by two paramedics, Division Chief Jim Martin and Captain Jack Quigley, will be open to the public for the first time during EMS Week, from Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Martin, a graphic designer-turned paramedic, who retired in 2010, spent years researching the history of the ambulance service while Quigley, a talented carpenter, managed the construction of the 400-square-foot museum.

Nearly 26 years ago, the first museum opened at Fort Totten. In 2013, it was removed to make way for some much needed construction.

During the five-year hiatus, Martin and Quigley continued gathering and planning for the reopening.

Display cases exhibit EMS uniforms and medical equipment that evolved over the years. Other exhibits highlight radios, badges, patches and artifacts used in the delivery of emergency medical care through the last century.

Touch-screen video monitors shows clips of EMS veterans, some of whose careers span five decades.

Interactive exhibits depict the diverse group of medics, EMTs, drivers and physicians who dedicated their lives to saving lives of New Yorkers in distress.

George Choy, a retired medic said, “I had so many thoughts and emotions as I went through the museum,” accompanied by many former co-workers who gathered for the ceremony under a large tent outside the EMS Academy. “I am a registered nurse, a retired NYPD detective, but the most fulfilling and proudest period of my life is when I was able to say I wore the ‘Green and White uniform’ as a paramedic.”

According to Martin, the majority of the artifacts were donated “by EMS folks, many retired, who saved obsolete items for their personal collections, but felt it was better to share them so that everyone could enjoy them.”

“We have a few ambulance lights, a 1930s warning bell, ambulance procedure books dating back nearly 100 years and early paramedic equipment like drug boxes, defibrillators and airway kits,” said Martin.

The exhibit is a chronological display of the development of NYC’s EMS System, beginning in 1869 and traveling forward to the present.

Panels illustrate the origins of the paramedic program and the EMS response to 9/11.

“The establishment of advanced life support [paramedics] is considered by many to be the greatest advance in the history of the service,” said Martin.

Another veteran who attended the opening was Cedric G. Cannon, a retired lieutenant who spent much of his 27-year career in the Bronx. “As I entered the museum, I was reminded of the legacy of dedication that members of EMS before me had begun and being included in the testimonials reminded me that I had contributed to that legacy.”

Henry Levine, a retired Bronx paramedic who came in from Pennsylvania for the museum opening said, “I was impressed by the displays of the uniforms, the people and the equipment and how all of these things had only one purpose, which was to save lives.”

“Walking through the museum I have a great sense of pride that I will always be part of NYC-EMS,” said the 25-year veteran medic.

If you go: The NYC EMS Museum is at 325 Pratt Ave., on the grounds of Fort Totten in Bayside. It is only open to the public this week, from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.