COVID surge: Omicron causing shortage of FDNY EMS staff

The omicron variant of COVID-19 has become the dominant strain in New York City, driving a surge of cases all across the five boroughs. 

From Broadway to sports and now first responders, no part of the city has been left alone by the pandemic, as the FDNY is dealing with an EMS shortage during the holidays.

"When you're grossly understaffed, major illnesses exacerbate that problem and we are seeing that again now a lot of members are getting sick," said Vincent Variale, President of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union FDNY.

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The FDNY has confirmed that roughly 19% of the city's EMS workers are out sick. The normal average is around 5%.

On top of the staffing shortages, union leaders say they are also seeing a high volume in emergency calls related to COVID-19.

"Those calls are coming over as fever/cough calls, and we've seen a lot more of them now," Variale said. "And those people who have medical conditions, diabetes, heart conditions already, we're seeing an increase of these people in cardiac arrest."

All of those factors are leading to overtime and burnout amongst EMS workers.

"We are mandated on a regular basis to cover as shift. Now it's happening more often. EMS members are being asked to stay up to 18 hours, the overtime cap is completely lifted.

The FDNY says crews can work up to 18 hours shifts at their discretion. Personal leave and most training classes have been canceled to make additional staff available. 

Union leaders say they've requests help from private ambulance services, but some of those companies are dealing with shortages of their own, meaning city EMS workers can't get the help they need.