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Doing EMS is an inherently risky job. There are violent crimes scenes, abusive patients, driving urgent, infectious diseases, highway scenes with cars zooming pass, and deterioration of one’s health, including heart attacks. Unfortunately, sometimes there is even death in the line of duty.
Such was the case for EMS personnel in the New York City Fire Department. EMS personnel in the FDNY are not cross-trained firefighters and serve mainly as single-role medics. In 1996, EMS, which was a part of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., was merged into the FDNY. Since EMS was relatively new to FDNY, there was no mechanism in place to assist those families of EMS personnel who died in the line of duty.
To fill the void, EMS members of the FDNY formed the EMS Command Memorial Foundation – a non-profit organization designed to support the surviving family members of those EMS personnel who have died in the line of duty in the FDNY. The foundation works closely and collaboratively with the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2507, which represents the uniformed EMTs and paramedics of the FDNY.
Since 1995 and prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, there were three line-of-duty deaths of EMS personnel in New York City. The death that put the framework for forming the foundation together came with the death of Tracy Allen Lee, a paramedic who died of AIDS in 1997. Lee contracted HIV in 1989, when she cut her fingernail cuticle while transporting an AIDS patient.
What was an organization mostly teetering along dramatically changed with the Sept. 11 attack. Eight EMS personnel died in the line of duty during the attacks, two from the FDNY and six from private EMS agencies operating in New York City. Even though the organization was formed primarily for FDNY EMS personnel, the foundation decided to support the families of the six EMS personnel from private agencies who died in the attack since, as it was described, “This was not an attack on EMS, but an attack on America.”
Since then, Richard Fox, a paramedic with the New York City Fire Department, has not gotten much sleep. Working seven days a week and averaging 12 to 14 hours a day, Fox serves as president of the EMS Command Memorial Foundation in a full-time capacity. In order to carry out the colossal mission of the foundation, Fox requested and received permission from the fire department to take a leave of absence. Fox is quick to point out that he has much help from others who work part time in the organization and his work is not about himself, but about those who served and their families.
I personally became acquainted with the foundation when I met members volunteering their time in a booth at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore to raise money for the foundation. Later, many of the same people gave of their time and were working a booth at Fire-Rescue International in Kansas City for the same purpose.
The primary objective of the foundation is to support the families and loved ones of EMS personnel killed in the line of duty. Among the many chores that the foundations does to support the families is identifying resources, helping families with financial support, applying for grants and arranging for counseling services. Additionally, members of the foundation have helped families identify remains, plan funerals, select cemetery plots, established strategies for setting up estates, worked with lawyers, dealt with media inquires, attended plaque dedications and worked with the surviving children. As Fox tells me, he even has forced widows to take vitamins every day to maintain their health because of lack of sleep and eating.
Even though it has been over a year since the WTC attacks, Fox also describes situations where remains of EMS personnel are found 10 months later and families find themselves going through the grieving process all over. But mostly the families are grateful for the assistance that comes from the foundation with the mountains and mountains of paperwork that comes with every line of duty death, especially those from the WTC attack.