As many of my constituents know, I am the Chair of the New York City Council’s Fire & Emergency Committee. In that capacity, I’ve spent much of my time fighting to protect the FDNY’s benefits, enhance their on-the-job safety, and guarantee that all members of the Department are given the pay that they deserve. This week, I’d like to take a minute to tell you all about some of the battles we’re waging in the Council and let you know of some of the developments going on behind the scenes.

One of the things that I’m most proud of is the strong stance many of my colleagues and I have taken to protect the healthcare benefits of our retirees. On January 9th, I stood on the steps of City Hall with boxes full of literally THOUSANDS of letters from our city’s retirees – each and every one of them imploring me to resist proposed amendments to our city code that would change their healthcare provider. To date, we have been successful in protecting our retirees. The city has stepped away from the switch that would transfer its current healthcare package to an unwanted Medicare Advantage program – but that battle is only on pause. It is far from over, and I and my colleagues remain vigilant for any signs from the administration that they may want to force a change in the future.

For those on active duty, I’ve been working hard to address the manpower shortage that the department is currently facing. To that end, I’ve pressed to reinstate many of those firefighters who were let go as a result of COVID-19 vaccine non-compliance. Over the past year, I was able to personally get sixteen firefighters back on the job, and just this week we were able to get COVID-19 vaccination requirements lifted for new recruits. I’m also working to extend testing eligibility for EMS workers looking to be promoted to firefighters who were denied the opportunity to do so during the pandemic.

Between 2020 and 2022 the EMS-to-Fire exams were suspended, meaning hundreds of potential firefighter candidates were denied the ability to join the force. By temporarily extending testing eligibility to cover those who may have gone over the age limit during this period, I’m hoping to gain a one-time, special dispensation to allow those EMS workers who were denied the opportunity to take the promotional exam to do so. I’ve been working with the FDNY to bring up this issue with the federal court monitor that oversees these age-restricted examinations, and I hope to have good news on that front soon.

Speaking of our Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics, I have also been fighting to get our EMS workers the pay that they deserve. Currently, EMS employees are woefully underpaid, and many are just barely making a living wage. This is unacceptable. I also want those men and women to be appropriately protected. All too often, our EMS is the first to arrive at a 911 call, showing up before the police and thus exposing themselves to potentially dangerous, life-threatening situations. As such, I have sponsored legislation that would provide EMS workers with Kevlar vests, so they can have some protection against any would-be assailants.

This year, I will certainly have a fight on my hands as we begin the transition into the post-COVID world. Reversing many of the missteps made during the pandemic will not be easy, and addressing the manpower and capital issues of the FDNY is a struggle. But it is a struggle that I am honored to be a part of, and I look forward to tackling these challenges head-on and ensuring that New York’s Bravest are given the respect and the resources that they deserve.

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