NEW YORK - “Almost like 7,000 calls now per day. And people are going through this and they’re hurting and it hurts you, it hurts your heart,” said FDNY EMT Tanya Murray.
Murray has been an EMT for nearly 14 years, first in the field and now as a 911 call taker at emergency medical dispatch, or EMD.
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“On the streets, it’s wear and tear physically,” she said. “But at EMD, it’s wear and tear mentally.”
With New York as the epicenter of the outbreak, EMS finds itself overwhelmed.
There used to be about 4,000 911 calls a day.
Now, there’s sometimes more than 7,000, the volume breaking records set during the 9/11 attacks.
Carlos Perez is a 25-year EMT veteran. In the aftermath of 9/11, he was working in an ambulance. Now, in this crisis, he’s at dispatch.
“It’s kind of similar, but just more drawn out, more spaced out,” he said of the two crises. “It’s just waking up every day to the same thing and just doing it all over again. We have some members that actually choose to sleep here, in order to maximize their rest so they can show up the next day and do it all over again.”
EMTs and paramedics in the field also sometimes aren’t sleeping at home, for fearing of spreading coronavirus to their loved ones.
“I think the biggest thing is the overwhelming concern of taking this home to their family,” said Vincent Variale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621. “That’s why after working 16, 17-hour shifts, they’re sleeping in their cars.”
FEMA has sent help to New York in the form of 250 ambulances and 500 EMTs from around the country.
And more radio frequencies have been opened up to handle the increase in 911 calls.
But EMS cites a new challenge more unique to COVID-19 patients: cardiac arrests.
A team that previously handled about one cardiac arrest in eight hours now responds to five or six people whose hearts have stopped.
Cardiac arrests require more time, more resources.
“A lot of people are dying,” said Oren Barzilay, president of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics, and Fire Inspectors Local 2507. “It’s just traumatizing to see what’s happening. Not just in New York City, but all around.”
The FDNY is imploring the public to call 911 only for emergencies.
And EMS says they’ll be there for those emergencies.
“We took an oath and we care,” Murray said.
“Everyone is stepping up and showing up,” Perez said.