Remember the Past to Move Forward: The Reopening of the FDNY EMS Museum
An overcast sky hung above a crowd of Class-A uniform-clad FDNY EMS personnel gathering for the long-awaited reopening of the FDNY EMS Museum. Housed in a room within the EMS Academy, Building 325, a beautiful brick structure at Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens, N.Y., the renovated building features many upgrades to enhance the experience of students and instructors.
The museum was first opened in 1992 as a means to educate the public and EMS students by chronicling the history of the country’s first municipal ambulance service. Because of its location, every member of the service attending their initial and ongoing training had the opportunity to walk through the museum to learn about the profession and the department’s past. Exhibits included photos of ambulances and department members dating back to the ambulance service’s beginnings at Bellevue Hospital in 1869. Members can view old uniforms and shields, early radios, first generation ambulance mobile data terminals, and the first (and largest) EKG monitor/defibrillator used by the first paramedic graduates in 1974, as well as many additional pieces of medical equipment that have been in use since the 1960’s.
“The Emergency Medical Service of New York City has truly come a long way since this museum first opened,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro during the opening ceremony. “And during that time, the men and women of EMS have made the FDNY stronger, better trained, and more capable by helping our city than ever before.”
“I always say in this job that you really have to know where you came from to know where you are and where you're going to be,” said James Leonard, Chief of Department. “When I go in there, it's not only a history of New York City EMS, but it's also a history of prehospital care.”
Leonard described the long history between firefighters and EMS in the city—in the 1970s, approximately 3,000 firefighters were EMT-trained until EMS went on to become its own department. The two departments then merged a little over 20 years ago into what Leonard refers to as “the best department in the world.”
Nigro said that the museum serves “as a site to maintain this important history, and to show the next generation of paramedics the proud tradition of service they have joined.”
While Leonard thinks very highly of the department, he believes the prehospital care delivered by its employees must continue to develop and improve its strengths.
“What is our goal? It’s about treating individual people. About saving lives and the public. And that is what the legacy is,” he said. “We have never been better, but we have to thank all the retired members here. Every generation of EMTs and medics who ran this department looked to make it better and did the best they could with the resources that they were given to get us here today.”
In 2003, it was decided that the building needed a thorough renovation so new members could continue the great work of those past FDNY members. Chief James Martin, retired, Captain Jack Quigley, and Lieutenant Carl Tramontana discussed the academy’s needs based on the growing demand to provide the best training for the increasing number of EMTs, paramedics and firefighters needed to accommodate for the growth of the city’s population and call volume.
The academy’s upgrades include a reconstructed opening lobby that feels more welcoming; energy-saving LED lights that replaced old lighting, and classrooms outfitted with new smart monitors, computers, and audio/visual components. Students and staff can also take advantage of the newly installed fitness areas and locker room.
Another major addition was a Simulation Lab in which students can experience a complete patient encounter staged in a realistic, furnished setting with a mannequin that can converse with the EMT and paramedic in real time. Students can perform basic and advanced skills such as IVs and intubation on the mannequin, which also displays measurable vital signs. Their performances are on video and can be reviewed by the students in order to learn from mistakes and reinforce their skills.
The renovation of the EMS museum intends to convey the department’s core values: bravery, safety, honor, dedication, equity and preparedness, which members of the FDNY are trained to exemplify through their work.
“Each one of you here has built a reputation. Now it's [the new generation’s] turn to operate and to carry us forward,” said Leonard. “You have to remember the past to move forward. It’s a great day for EMS. It's a great day for the FDNY in general.”