For many emergency medical technicians, working through the Covid-19 pandemic simply isn't worth it.
An alarming number of these frontline workers are "exiting the field for good" amidst the pandemic, according to a new report from CBS. The reason is obvious: Covid-19 simply makes the job too dangerous.
Robert Baer, an EMT in New York City who was formerly one of the first responders on September 11, told CBS: "I knew it would probably kill me if I went out there and had multiple exposures — and I'm not a chicken. I love the job, but my doctors were telling me I shouldn't be going in the field, that it was very dangerous."
He was supposed to be deployed to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens back in March, but decided his risks were too high and, instead, quit his job. As a result of the September 11 response, he suffers with asthma, chronic bronchitis and sleep apnea that put him at a higher risk for Covid.
He gave up between $2,000 and $4,000 per year in retirement benefits to retire early. "I looked at it as life over limb. It wasn't about the money — it was about my health and surviving," he commented.
Steven Kleinberg, a 56 year old paramedic in Brooklyn, has also retired. He said: "COVID took a lot out of me, and at first I wasn't sure about retiring, but the pandemic made up my mind for me. If I worked longer, I would be entitled to more money, but I am at the point where I will take what I have earned."
And it's not just Baer and Kleinberg. Oren Barzilay, president of the FDNY-EMS Local 2507, representing New York City medics has noted that about 60 EMTs have left the department over the last 4 months. Many of those retiring are over the age of 50.
Barzilay said: "Some people like to complete 30 years on the job so they can maximize their pension, but I noticed a trend in recent weeks that they aren't really concerned about that anymore. As soon as they reach their eligibility, which is 25 years, they are leaving."
"They see the risks associated with the job and the low pay, and it's just not worth it," Barzilay continued. EMTs start at just $30,000 per year in New York and pay tops out at about $50,000. Nationally, the job pays just $38,830 per year on average.
Alarmingly, Michael MacNeil, president of Boston's EMS association says it's not just older EMTs that are quitting. Rather, those with only a couple of years in the field are also leaving - and new positions are getting difficult to fill. He said: "We aren't getting people interested and don't have enough qualified applicants to fill available seats. We can't fill the jobs."
Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association, representing medics in Austin, Texas says that 25 EMTs have left already this year, on pace to double the annual average of 30. Xie said: "We know for sure the virus is helping people make the decision that this is not an ideal job right now and that their own health and their family's health is at risk."