FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro reaffirmed his support for significantly higher salaries for Emergency Medical Service workers during a March 19 City Council budget hearing, saying those "hard-working dedicated people" were not paid what they're worth.
His remarks came as the unions representing Emergency Medical Technicians and officers prepared to make a counter-offer to an Office of Labor Relations wage proposal when the two sides return to bargaining table April 5.
Not Paid Enough
"I personally believe that they are not compensated as they should," Mr. Nigro told the Council Committee on Fire and Emergency Management. "But we don't control the process."
His comments came in response to questions from Council Member Joseph Borelli, chair of the Fire and Emergency Management Committee, who pointed out that starting pay in Philadelphia is $57,000 a year, 35 percent more than for EMTs here.
District Council 37 Local 2507, which represents EMTs, has pressed for pay parity with Firefighters, whose maximum salary of a bit more than $85,000 is more than $34,000 above top pay for EMTs. While a majority of EMTs are people of color, and one-third are women, Firefighters are overwhelmingly male and white. Firefighters are also entitled to unlimited sick leave, while EMTs receive just 12 paid sick days annually, and pension benefits for Firefighters, particularly those hired before 2010, are also far better.
Those disparities are a major incentive for EMTs to transfer into Firefighter jobs once they pass a special exam for that job and benefit from a special promotion list for the title, contributing to the high turnover rate at EMS.
Waiting for Mayoral Echo
"I appreciate him [Mr. Nigro] being vocal about having EMS wages adjusted, but the Mayor's office really needs to come out and speak about it and say that he supports it," said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507. "This way we would have some reassurance that this issue will be corrected."
He said there were other concrete steps the de Blasio administration could take to improve conditions for his members.
"While we are seeing some progress at the negotiating table, we were disappointed there was no request for funds for improving EMS's infrastructure," Mr. Barzilay said. "It's basically crumbling. We have stations that are over 100 years old, and we are busting out at the seams; so bad in fact that they have cut our lockers in half so as to accommodate additional members. Response times would improve with more community-based stations. We only have 30 stations, and it's not enough for a city this size."
In January 2020, Chief of EMS Lillian Bonsignore testified before the same Council Committee that the city was having trouble staffing EMS because of a national shortage of EMTs and paramedics, on top of the "churn" of 1,200 EMS members into firefighting jobs every four years after the Firefighter promotion exam produced a list from which appointments were made.
She said then that even as the city continued to set records for EMS call volume, and response times for those calls was rising, there had been a decline in the number of ambulance crews available.
As a result, last year 13 percent of city EMTs had less than one year on the job.
In the years when no promotions to Firefighter were being made, the FDNY noted the average on-the-job experience was 6.7 years for EMTs and 10 years for Paramedics.
"However, the years we have promotional exams, and they are going to Fire, we have the average length of [EMT] service being 3.5 years, and 4.5 years for Paramedics," Ms. Bonsignore told the Council last year.
At that hearing, Mr. Borelli cited a 2011 University of Pennsylvania study that established a direct link between more-experienced EMTs and patient outcomes. "The University of Penn study basically says...that more-experienced Paramedics lead to better health outcomes for the patients," he said.
Both EMS unions are in the process of suing the city for race- and gender-based pay discrimination. The firefighting side of the FDNY is 78 percent white and 99 percent male. In contrast, 54 percent of EMTs are nonwhite, with 28 percent Hispanic, 21 percent black and 5 percent Asian. Close to a third are female.