FEMA Sending 250 Ambulances, 500 EMTs as 911 Calls Hit Record High in NYC

EMS operators are having to put calls on hold to prioritize urgent emergencies like heart issues, strokes and the like

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Calls to 911 have hit a record in New York City, and it is straining the system at the worst possible time. It's not just a record spike -- it's a record number of 911 calls daily, a 50 percent increase over normal daily call volume, the FDNY says.

The FDNY responded to 6,527 calls on Monday, a surge of more than 500 from the day before, a department source tells News 4. A typical busy day consists of about 4,000 calls, FDNY Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Frank Dwyer has said. Last week, Dwyer said the FDNY saw a call volume over a three-day period that he described as the "largest in our history."

New records are being set daily. The FDNY says they are having to put calls on hold because of the volume.

Making matters even more difficult, approximately 2,800 of the FDNY's 17,000-member department called out sick on Tuesday — more than 16 percent of the department, according to a senior official. Of those who called out sick, 23 percent are EMS workers who would be responding to emergency calls. Another 16 percent are firefighters, the senior official said.

Reinforcements are coming. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that FEMA was sending 250 ambulances and about 500 EMTs and paramedics to the city, with 135 of those ambulances and 270 nurses already having arrived. Those resources will increase capacity for transport between medical sites and help the FDNY cope with its record call number, the mayor said.

"Our EMTs and paramedics are doing unbelievable work under the toughest of circumstances," de Blasio said in a statement. "This week, I promised them help was on the way, and today it is. Our partnership with FEMA will give our first responders the help they need to continue being the heroes of our city." 

At a press conference on Tuesday, the mayor expressed gratitude to the federal government for sending the badly needed backup.

"I am so moved and so appreciative to the federal government with how they move so quickly here, and in great numbers," de Blasio said. "I give all the credit in the world to FEMA and regional administrator Tom von Essen," who formerly was the FDNY Commissioner at the time of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Meanwhile, the FDNY urges New Yorkers to only call 911 in urgent emergencies, like if they're experiencing heart troubles or problems breathing. Anyone who is just a "regular" kind of sick, or has COVID-19 symptoms, should contact a doctor or 311 (in NYC) first, the FDNY says.

As of Friday afternoon, New York City represents about 30 percent of the COVID-19 cases nationwide and more than a quarter of the U.S. deaths. ER doctors and nurses in the city have taken to social media to chronicle how overwhelmed their teams are.

Marc Santia gets an inside look at the 911 communications center where first-responders are taking calls as the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen.
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