The Work We Do: Emergency Medical Services (EMS)September 5, 2023
Emergency Medical Services are the medical professionals that respond to 9-1-1 calls to treat and transport people in crisis. As EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) and Paramedics, these workers respond to trauma of all kinds – from car accidents to drownings, cardiac arrest to strokes, baby deliveries, wounds from weapons, overdoses, and broken bones, every day is something different and an opportunity to provide help and support.
Recently, EMS workers have been in the spotlight after a recent violent attack. But the danger these members face does not deter them from doing the work that they love.
The 1199 Magazine caught up with several members to learn more about what they do.
1. “You need patience, common sense, being able to speak to people of all sorts of different backgrounds, and being able to treat people the same,” says Thomas Herrera, 21-year EMT at Lenox Hill Hospital. “I love helping people.” Herrera also emphasized the importance of partnership, “Your partner can 100% make or break your day. You could have best day in the world and don’t get along with your partner – it can be a very long day.” He’s noticed his perception of EMT’s has changed. “When you’re a kid you think [EMS workers] are adrenaline junkies or turn on the siren and lights just to go through traffic, but once you’ve done this for more than a week, you don’t want to go ‘lights & sirens’ you hate that noise. I like having peaceful days when no one gets hurt and no one is sick.”
2. Celina Brunings, EMT for 7-years at Lenox Hill, knows the challenges of the job because of the circumstances of the calls and the resources available. “We have very unpredictable days and we’re in a sporadic environment where at times we’re not safe or we don’t get the resources that we need.” Another frustration is sometimes not being treated as equal. “Some men don’t always respect us. I had one try to take the [medical] bag and the chair while on a call and I had to say to him, ‘I got this,” I’m your partner, I appreciate the courtesy, but I’m also a member and want to be treated as such.” Regardless, Brunings wouldn’t change her job for anything. “I had a patient thank me yesterday while I was at the gas station and he said that he appreciated that I treated him with respect, was calm and cool, he said that I really saw him.”
3. That sense of family is something Elisa Lopez-Cordova shares as an EMT at Lenox Hill for the past 12 years. “We celebrate people’s birthdays, if someone has a baby, if there’s a death – we’re there for each other.” Lopez experienced this firsthand when her husband was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of the pandemic. “He’s a first responder also so that hit double hard. I worried about bringing COVID home to him who is immune compromised and worried about [spreading it] to my patients, my partner, everyone. When he was in the hospital, I had a co-worker bring a date and sit with him for 7 hours.” Lopez’s husband is doing okay and can often be seen with her at Union events. Even though she’s been an EMT for 22 years, she’s only been a delegate for four months, but loves the experience. “I had been trying for a while to become a delegate, so now is my time. I’ve gotten exposed to so many things. I got to be a part of negotiations, I’ve gone to Albany, I feel like I have more of a voice now. I’m an outspoken Latina, so I’m gonna be heard.”
4. “The number one rule of EMS is do not take your job home with you. You always sympathize and empathize with them, like this could be your family member, but your goal is to do the job and leave it there,” says Sonny Hodge, a paramedic at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) for six years, adding: “We see things that no one else sees; not just bodily fluids and blood, but things no one should have to see. We meet people often on their worst day, so we must remain professional and keep ourselves healthy so we can do the job. Your worst day could be someone’s last day, so I want to show up and give 100% to all my patients.” Hodge plays baseball to decompress. “I played baseball growing up and I got hurt a few times, so I started to think of other options if I didn’t make it professionally. I always found medicine interesting and wanted to do sports medicine, so I was like, ‘let me go on an ambulance and see if I like it.’ Unfortunately (lol) I loved it and I’m still here.”
5. Cassidy Iannariello, an EMT at RUMC for 7 years values the training she’s receiving and that it’s being covered by 1199. “I wanted to go to med school and thought EMS would be a good start.” Iannariellois studying at Kingsborough Community College and was set to graduate on July 25th. “The 1199 Training Fund paid for my school and healthcare; it was very helpful especially when I couldn’t work that much while going to school.” She also sees the value of being a woman training in the next level of the field, “right now there’s 27 students in my class, and there’s only four females. As a female I’m really trying to push and pass so that I can show others that yes, a female can do this and do a great job at it.”
6. “I’ve wanted to be a paramedic probably my whole life,” says Robert Bonome, paramedic at Richmond University Hospital (RUMC) in Staten Island for 15 years. “I found a journal that I wrote in when I was 10 – 11 years old that I wanted to be an EMT and then a paramedic, and I don’t even remember writing it. My mother was a nurse, so that started me in the medical field.” It is not easy, “More than 50 percent of people who start paramedic school usually fail; when I did it in 2008, we started with 32 [students] and 13 graduated.” But if you make it, it’s worth it, “I helped deliver a baby on the shoulder of FDR Drive in the back of a yellow cab. It all went smoothly; it was a girl or jokingly I would’ve asked the mom to name it after me!”
7. EMS work is a family affair for Victoria Fauslo, an EMT at RUMC for three years. “I grew up around EMS and it had an influence on me. My mom, stepdad, uncle, and brother are all EMS workers; my uncle and brother both work at RUMC and sometimes we have shifts together, there’s a fun sibling rivalry.” When asked advice for anyone wanting to become an EMS worker, Fauslo suggests doing the ambulance tours. “A lot of new students stay in the ER and do vital checks instead of going on the ambulance. The first time you’re doing a compression on someone’s chest is the time you’re really gonna know if you’re cut out for the job or not.” Worker’s safety, especially being a woman, is on top of mind for Fauslo. “We have calls come in labeled ‘unknown’ so you don’t know what environment you’re walking into. We don’t carry anything to keep us safe, but we have a specific radio call which signals that we’re in danger and other ambulances will come to where you are to help.”
8. “We have 150 EMS employees that use 6 ambulances that run 24-7, four BLS (basic life support) trucks and two ALS (advanced life support).” Explains Joseph Fiore, a 20-year EMT at RUMC and an 1199 Delegate, “BLS is more bandaging and treating wounds, treating those critically injured. ALS is for heart and respiratory conditions and can administer drugs, treating those critically sick. EMT’s are BLS and paramedics are ALS.” There are around 3,000 members in 1199 because EMS is in every hospital. When asked what people don’t know about EMS work, Fiore said, “it’s not like on TV, we don’t sit in a firehouse and hang out with 20 people making dinner. We sit on a street corner, wherever they assign you and that’s where you start and stay in-between calls."