Paramedic Paul Cary served 30 years in Aurora, Colo. for the fire department. In late March, at the age of 66, Cary drove an ambulance almost 2000 miles from Denver to New York City so that he could volunteer as part of Ambulnz’s State of New York COVID Response team. Cary had already signed up for a second deployment when he fell ill with COVID-19. He died on April 30, 2020.
This act of selflessness is not unheard of for an EMS provider. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced story after heart-wrenching story of the Paul Carys of the world, now finally broadcast to the larger lay-audience. But we all know that EMS has always had these stories.
I heard many of them on the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (NEMSMBR), where for hundreds of miles, the “Muddy Angels” honor those lost in the line of duty by riding their bikes across different U.S. routes, stopping at EMS agencies and firehouses to conduct a ceremony and read aloud the names of our fallen comrades. I would have ridden proudly and enthusiastically for the third time this year. Sadly, like most other events, all but one of these routes, as well as the National EMS Memorial Service (NEMSMS) were canceled, and while a Zoom bike ride may sound interesting, it just doesn’t sound very safe.
It’s worthwhile to go back and read the touching tributes to previous rides: Ela Rybczyk captures poetically how she felt in her first ride: Never alone. And Miranda Hansen, who is not an EMS provider, describes her deep connection to the honoree she rode for. In 2018, I wrote about the camaraderie of the ride and how empowering it was to be a part of a group that believed so strongly in the impressive work of EMS.
So, my fellow Muddy Angels and I are this year without a bike seat and the big sweaty peloton of grinning riding mates to process through the emotions of this crisis. Now, perhaps alone or perhaps alongside a smaller group, we celebrate the victories of patients surviving the virus, our co-workers surviving the overwhelming workload, the anecdotes of communities coming together to do good.
But we also reel at the news that more than 35 EMS providers have died in the line of duty in the first five months of 2020. For all of 2019, the NEMSMS tallied 24 LODDs.
And for paramedics like Paul and at least 15 other EMS providers who have lost their lives to COVID-19, there are no LODD benefits for surviving family members. Why? Because the Public Safety Officer’s Benefit (PSOB) only pays out for those who are employed by “a public agency; or are a part of a nonprofit entity serving the public.” Paul worked for a private EMS agency, as do many of our brothers and sisters. As long as this law remains written this way, the employer you choose to work for will be the determining factor for whether or not your surviving family members receive benefits after your LODD.
Why must there be a divide on this issue among the various union shops and representative associations? Why can’t public safety come together on this issue? During the COVID-19 pandemic, the massive healthcare machine successfully cut through years of red tape to innovate, bringing patients the right care at the right place at the right time. Isn’t it time that the greater good of providing for our providers overcomes the special interests of the major fire advocacy organizations?
It is EMS Week this week and we remain #EMSStrong, ready today, preparing for tomorrow. We remain united in our duty to take care of patients and each other. And while my fellow Muddy Angels can’t be physically together to honor Paul and the others, we can keep them close to our hearts and thank the NEMSMS for creating online tributes and moments of silence.
Let’s celebrate EMS successes and recognize our accomplishments: big or small, individuals or groups, public or private—we deserve it.
Hilary Gates, MAEd, NRP, is the senior editorial and program director for EMS World.