A recent debate has come to light in NYC with the Mayor’s comment (in justifying pay disparity between emergency services): “We are trying to make sure people are treated fairly and paid fairly, but I do think the work is different.”
Yes Mr. DiBlasio, EMS work is different from firefighting and police officers — each service has very different responsibilities when responding to emergency calls, but that does not make any service less vital. So why, then, are EMS salaries so far below the other services? Unfortunately this disparity seems to be consistent throughout New York State and our country. There is no doubt, we NEED our firefighters, we NEED our law enforcement, and we NEED our EMTs and Paramedics.
In the U.S. the average yearly salary for an EMT/Paramedic ranges from $26,748 to $39,540; the average salary for a firefighter is $43,940; and the average salary for a police officer is $52,070 (based on Jan. 2019 reports from Indeed.com). No one is claiming that the higher salaries are not merited, only that it is time that EMS receive comparable recognition for the services its responders deserve.
The salaries affect all of the men and women who perform high-risk jobs 24x7 that help to keep our communities and our families safe; the risk that all of these men and women take can, and unfortunately has at times, leave them with permanent injuries or take them away from their own families forever.
Stress, injuries and low-pay helps promote a high rate of turnover in the EMS field which, in turn, decreases the experience of the on-street medic. After a 14-year study of emergency ambulance runs in Mississippi, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania noted that there is a direct correlation between paramedic tenure and cumulative experience with patient wellbeing and call outcomes. High turnover in EMS robs our communities of the skill and knowledge that comes from having seasoned and practiced EMTs/Paramedics.
It’s time that people stop comparing risk factors to justify pay disparity. A 2016 Drexel University study documented that Paramedics had a 14-time-greater chance of being violently assaulted than their firefighter colleagues. EMTs/Paramedics respond to emergency calls for help and may not have a clear understanding of what they are walking into since the caller may not accurately describe the emergency. Most EMS providers are unarmed, although some municipalities are outfitting their responders with bullet-proof vests and some others have even passed bills which allow them to train and arm responders with firearms (a whole other discussion). On-street scenes and even in private residences EMS responders are vulnerable to attack by vicious bystanders, otherwise well-meaning family members, or EDP patients.
As testimony to some of the dangers and tragic consequences that EMS responders deal with, the NYS EMS Memorial in Albany added eight names of NYS responders who died in LODD incidents last May (2018), bringing the total to 72; the National EMS Memorial Service added 36 names of EMS and Air-Medical professionals to their Tree-of-Life. Among the more common causes of line-of-duty-deaths are vehicle collisions, assault, fatigue, exertion, contagion, and infectious diseases.
This is NOT a competition. This is about working men and women trying to make a living in high risk and emotionally draining jobs.
Although his argument cites NYC, Rosario Terranova, FDNY-EMS Division Chief (ret.), his statement can pertain to our nation, “What has long been overlooked and continues to be misunderstood is that EMS, as both profession and in this case an organization, does not want to be equated with police or firefighters. What the men and women of EMS serving the great City of New York want is to be recognized as the outstanding professionals that they are and be fairly compensated for the services they provide.”