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Aged-out for FDNY firefighter’s exam, EMS techs seek exemption

Union leadership divided on support


EMS workers looking to take the promotional exam to become FDNY firefighters later this year are calling for the city to grant a one-time exception for those who have aged out of eligibility to join the Bravest since the last promotional exam, scheduled to be administered in 2020, was canceled because of the pandemic. 

Firefighter candidates generally cannot have reached their 29th birthday by the time the application process rolls around, and there are now hundreds of EMTs and paramedics who were planning on the 2020 exam who have since passed that threshold. 

“Many of our members including ourselves who would have qualified to take the promotional exam in 2020 will no longer qualify as we aged out,” Haley Sato, an FDNY EMT since 2020 who turned 29 in March, said at a Monday City Council hearing considering the issue. “We do not feel that we are owed an exam or deserve a handout. We simply would like the opportunity that we would have had in 2020.”  

The last FDNY promotional exam for EMS first responders to become firefighters was administered nearly seven years ago, in December 2016, when 900 of the 1,400 paramedics and EMTs who took the test became firefighters. The next one is scheduled for this October, almost three years after the original 2020 date, which is why Sato and her coworkers are asking for exemptions for those who aged out in the last three years.  

Unions diverge on support  

Leadership of DC 37’s Local 2507, which represents EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors, has been critical of the firefighter promotional exam because it threatens to hollow out the already understaffed and overworked ranks of FDNY EMS. But at Monday’s hearing of the City Council’s Fire and Emergency Management Committee, the local’s vice president, Mike Greco, expressed tacit support for the one-time exemption, even though it could cause his union to lose hundreds of members.  

“You might as well give these heroes who did work during the pandemic a chance to get a test that they would've gotten,” he said at the hearing. Greco, though, reminded the committee members that a major reason EMS workers want to become firefighters is because of the lack of pay parity between EMS and other city first responders.  

“Our pay structure is single handedly keeping us down,” he said. Greco noted the union’s ongoing class-action race and sex-discrimination suit against the city, which cites the wage and benefits gap in between EMS workers and firefighters.  

Anthony Almojera, a paramedic and vice president of the EMS Officers Union, struck a more critical tone when asked about the scheduled FDNY promotional exam. “There shouldn’t be one,” he told The Chief, arguing that the exam creates a brain drain that draws the FDNY EMS’s most experienced members out of the service every four years.  

“I empathize with the members, and I get why they want to go” Almojera said in a phone interview, referencing the increased call volume, comparatively low pay and long hours. “But [the exam] also prevents people and the city from truly addressing the problems of EMS." 

He said that EMS has been losing 10-15 people a week to attrition and he expects it to be “a bloodbath” if hundreds leave to become firemen after the promotional exam in October. If the age exception is granted, Almojera fears older, more experienced lieutenants and captains would leave, worsening the workload for those who stick around.  

At the Monday hearing, during which several EMTs and paramedics testified about the need for the one-time extension, Barbara Dannenberg, the FDNY’s deputy commissioner for human capital, on several occasions told committee members that the department is “interested in finding a solution that is fair to these members." 

But the council members expressed their frustration when Dannenberg could not provide answers to their specific questions about EMS demographics. “Maybe we need to get someone in your seat that knows how to answer the questions,” committee Chair Joann Ariola told Dannenberg to the applause of EMTs and paramedics.  

The Council members will have to get a bill passed and signed by Mayor Eric Adams in the next few months if the age exception is to be granted. A bill introduced by Council Member Rob Holden last year would permanently raise the maximum eligible age to become a firefighter from 29 to 30, but the EMS unions have not signaled their support for the legislation.



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