An FDNY EMT pleaded with Congress on Thursday for hazard pay and a steady supply of protective gear — saying New York City emergency crews are “mentally and physically exhausted” after 10 weeks battling the coronavirus.
Diana Wilson told members of the new House coronavirus committee on a video conference that overworked emergency crews are finding patients dead at their homes, with a notable uptick in heart attacks per shift during the crisis.
Wilson likened treatment of first responders handling COVID-19 to cops and fire department staff whose health was ravaged by 9/11.
“Let us remember how EMTs and paramedics during 9/11 affected our department,” she said. “Remember how members were being told that the air quality was safe, and still experiencing staff dying to this very day? Fast-forward to today, responding first to this virus: When does EMS get the PPE we need to protect ourselves and save lives? When does EMS get the pay they deserve for being first medical responders?”
Wilson, a mother of two who lost her husband last year, said she hasn’t seen her children in weeks for their own safety while she works shifts of up to 16 hours.
“On a normal EMS shift we respond to one or two cardiac arrests. Since COVID-19 has ravaged our state, we are now responding to calls by six to 10 cardiac arrests in an eight-hour tour,” she said. “Despite our best efforts to save lives, we are finding patients dead in their homes, sometimes even in their cars.
“We are stressed and overworked for the better of 10 weeks,” she said, recalling specifically her concern early in the crisis about not having an N95 respirator mask for protection.
Wilson was the only New Yorker to brief committee members, and lawmakers did not ask her followup questions. In her remarks, she urged bipartisan support for emergency workers and didn’t directly criticize any officials — though she gave a harsh assessment of preparedness.
“The government failed us by not protecting first responders by providing us with a plan and PPE. We are haunted by our choices, and the patients we do not save,” Wilson testified. “There were other countries who had strategies to respond to this type of scenario, and we were grossly unprepared.”
She added: “We trained for Ebola. We train for active-shooting scenarios. We failed on a plan or training for this pandemic at any scale.”
The Democratic-led House coronavirus committee is chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and geared toward oversight of federal spending on the crisis. Republicans say it’s a stealth attempt to attack President Trump ahead of the November election.
On Tuesday, the committee’s five Republicans asked for a focus on China’s role in the pandemic, with requested testimony from China’s ambassador and the director-general of the World Health Organization.
A Democratic spokeswoman for the committee promptly shot down the idea, saying: “The Select Committee will follow its mission to ensure that taxpayer money appropriated to address the pandemic is used efficiently, effectively, and equitably. This body is not directed to focus on the origin of the virus.”
A witness at the Thursday briefing endorsed the idea of investigating China.
“I do believe the Chinese government did not do everything to limit the spread of coronavirus beyond its border,” said New Orleans restaurant owner Steve Pettus, who laid off 500 employees due to the crisis. “I, too, lost love ones, my aunt and friends. But we’ll never get them back and in recognition of the economic damage that China has caused, they should be held accountable.”