The FDNY prides itself on being the most advanced fire department in the world —drilling on bio-terrorism threats, complicated rescue operations and even mass shootings.
But New York's Bravest still find themselves at the mercy of the coronavirus.
"We are facing a challenge and enemy right now that’s not tangible,” said Jake Lemonda of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “We can’t see it, OK, so when we go into a fire, you know our experience and what we know, what we’ve learned, we can lean on those experiences. No one has ever experienced this."
As of Monday afternoon, 46 members of the FDNY — firefighters, EMTs and civilians — had tested positive for the virus.
Those numbers that are expected to rise in the coming days.
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The FDNY is now telling members they should all assume they've been exposed, a shift that means when a firefighter now tests positive, colleagues who worked with that person are not quarantined. Instead, anyone who feels sick is told to stay home; and, in accordance with Department of Health guidelines, to only get tested if their symptoms get worse.
Fire Union President Gerard Fitzgerald says the tests of first responders should be expedited so they can quickly know if they are infected. He told us, "As far as being near your family, being near your children, and if either one, your wife or husband or your children already have issues, this is a real problem."
The FDNY says more than 10 percent of its $11,000 500 member workforce is out on medical leave. Usually, it's six to seven percent.
In an effort to boost up its staffing levels, the FDNY has asked members who are scheduled for time off to put off their vacations they’ve also asked members who are currently on vacation to come back to work a bit early.
"We have contingency plans as to how we would operate if the numbers increase exponentially, but the bottom line is the fire department will not go out of business,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The fire department will not cease responding. They may respond in a different way, but they will respond."
Fire officials say they are powerless to speed up testing for first responders, though they have discussed the issue with city and state officials. Another major concern: ensuring there is enough personal protective equipment for each member for three months.
Currently, there's only enough for about four weeks.