Monday, March 18, 2013

An open letter to FDNY commissioner S. Cassano

* The following letter was published by The Chief newspaper under the Title of: EMT's Shortchanged. They did correctly discribe it as an Open letter underneath, but it's an Open Letter, just the same*

The following open letter to Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano is printed here at the request of its author.)
Dear Commissioner Cassano:
I noted with interest your comment on the recent story about the physical fitness (or lack thereof) of the recent firefighting class. Many things were said about the former FDNY/EMS command. While there might be several good reasons to attack these men and women in public, they serve to highlight the chasm between standards and practices in standards and practices between firefighting and its EMS counterpart. There is also a suggestion on how to avoid this going forward.
 
Firefighting is an inherently dangerous occupation; of that there is no doubt. Running into burning buildings, hauling equipment and hoses up multiple flights, and operating safely at fire and accident scenes requires top physical conditioning, expert training, and experience. You have a right and a duty to expect this of your employees and candidates. That is not in dispute. What is in dispute is what was not done to adequately prepare and encourage those already in the department to meet (or exceed) those expectations. A more-jaded person than myself might conclude that it was done on purpose.
 
EMS is a very different occupation and is practiced under conditions that would frankly be deemed intolerable by most firemen! Let’s have an experiment: Take a busy engine company and for the next 12 months, treat them exactly as the department currently treats its EMTs and Paramedics. To wit:
 
• At the start of their tour, have them bring all their equipment and go sit in the engine.
 
• Take them out and away from the firehouse and park outside somewhere in or close to their area.
 
• Unless they are working, cleaning up (20 minutes max) or using the facilities (bathroom–same amount of time=20 mins) they are to sit in the engine and monitor the radio. No exercising outside or doing mutuals— they are to keep the exact same schedule, whatever that entails—up to 24 hours just sitting there. They are not allowed to go back to the firehouse and cook or even eat a meal in the engine—they have to eat out.
 
Would you like to bet now on what their physical/emotional condition will be at the end? The average firefighter makes this job his (or her) career, but the average EMT lasts approximately three years; the average Paramedic, five years. Our injury and sick rates match or exceed yours. Our workload is also 2-4 times greater, bringing stressors that strain even the most even-tempered folks. This is not an excuse, merely a statement of fact.
 
When the current rules regarding FDNY advancement were put into place, it was generally believed that those FDNY/EMS employees would not have long to wait between the time they were hired and their admission to the academy. Who knew that a judge would halt all hiring for 5-7 years? Even the most motivated of people must have grown discouraged by the events that unfolded. To the best of my knowledge, this department made no attempt to reach out to these members specifically or any FDNY/EMS MOS to encourage, motivate or train them, outside of the annual medical day.
 
One would have thought that the department would go out of its way to actively encourage members to meet the physical challenges of the job: After all, they knew these members would show up at the academy sooner or later. Those in the upper echelons of the department were aware of this situation and have known (or should have known) that the failure to do this would result in this awful merry-go-round of failure. I’m going to use a word I’ve oft heard bandied about this department in other fields: pro-active.
 
Now, perhaps I’m wrong (I’ve been wrong before and I’m sure I’ll be wrong again) but it is nonetheless true that failure to plan is planning to fail. This lack of planning seems more...deliberate then a mere oversight. Again, a more jaded person then myself might try to use this situation to advantage:
 
• It highlights the argument that minority hiring would somehow lower the standards of the department.
 
• It allows the department to sever its hiring connection to FDNY/EMS “for cause.”
 
• It plays out great in the press: “Fat FDNY medics/EMTs fail fire academy.”
 
Now I believe in Chief Mannix’s assertion that the only measurement that counts is the ability to do the job, without any concern of race or sex, but I cannot help but think that these employees, who have proven their worth under fire, were cruelly used as cannon fodder to advance the agenda of some.
 
Like it or not, the FDNY/EMS command is here to stay. We are all one department with the mission of protecting and preserving the lives and property of the people of New York. Being pro-active means acknowledging where problems are and moving to address them.
 
If I were to speculate on how to turn this situation around going forward (I’m sad to say that it’s too late for the current candidates) I would suggest that the department establish training facilities for all department employees, in all boroughs, using both dedicated and light-duty personnel, to provide training, motivation, diet/meal planning etc... Also, those employees wanting to advance to Firefighter join dedicated training groups (much like the Navy S.E.A.L.S) to encourage each other to get and keep in the kind of condition the department desires. I am aware that this will cost money—nothing worthwhile is ever cheap—however, the benefits of the program to the department (fitter employees, lower LOD injury rates, lower Workers’ Comp claims) more than outweigh the risks of doing nothing. It also lets the people of this city know and believe in the FDNY’s Bravest!

2 comments:

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