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FDNY’s New Class of EMS Graduates Ready to Man Front Lines of COVID Pandemic

The photo shows an FDNY graduate.
The FDNY today had 153 new emergency medical technicians graduating. (Photo/FDNY)

Thomas Tracy

New York Daily News

(TNS)

For three years, Adam Phumalee was a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan fighting terror cells and insurgents. Now he’s in a whole new conflict — as an FDNY Emergency Medical Technician battling COVID-19.

“It’s a different type of war zone, one that I don’t have a lot of experience on,” said Phumalee. “This is not Taliban or Al Qaeda. This is a sickness. Right now I have to handle it day by day.”

The former Marine is one of 153 probationary EMTs graduating from the EMS Bureau of Training at Fort Totten in Queens Friday.

The entire academy experience was a study in social distancing: For 13 weeks cadets had to wear face coverings at all times, separate 6 feet apart and take part in smaller groups for classroom education and hands-on exercises.

“We had to be acclimated to the new protocols and be separated at all times, Phumalee, 30, said. “But as long as I have my (personal protective equipment) and wear my gloves I’ll be fine.”

The graduation itself will be a closed ceremony, although it will be live-streamed on the FDNY’s website.

“This year has confirmed what we in the Department have always known — FDNY Emergency Medical Technicians are vital for the health and safety of our city,” Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Thursday. “Our graduates have received outstanding training and are ready to join the brave men and women of the FDNY who are responding to thousands of medical emergencies every day on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

FDNY Academic Achiever Mike Brockett, the academy class’ version of a valedictorian, said that starting one’s career in the middle of a pandemic will be quite a juggling act.

“It’s going to be one of those challenges,” said Brockett, who was a volunteer firefighter in his home town of Stockport, N.Y., before joining the FDNY. “I think everyone in the class is coming out excited to do good and do what we are trained to do, but we are conscious and aware of the pandemic and aware of the dangers of it.”

EMS veterans he spoke to during his training all gave him the same advice: Do whatever you can to help your patient and make sure you don’t bring COVID home to your family.

“We are going to do our best not to get ourselves sick,” he said. “And the people that are affected. We’re going to try to do the best we can to get them healthy.”

Friday will mark the second EMT graduation since the pandemic started in March.

The graduates will be hitting the street as COVID cases in the city have been reduced, although several hot spots have flared up in Brooklyn and Queens.

FDNY EMS currently responds to about 3,600 emergency calls a day. During the height of the pandemic in March and April, EMS was logging about 6,000 medical calls a day.

Phumalee believes that being a city EMT will be an extension of his patriotic service that he began in the Marines — something he’s dedicated his life to since watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11.

“I’m being called for service again,” he said. “This time, there’s a pandemic going on.”

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