Unions want firefighter deaths investigated
Suspect Covid link
Firefighters from Engine 163 and Ladder 83 in Staten Island give a farewell salute to FDNY Lt. Joseph Maiello, who was found unconscious and pronounced dead while on-duty at the firehouse Dec. 26. His death and those of four other firefighters since December has prompted fire union officials to demand that the department explore any possible links to Covid.
Posted Wednesday, March 9, 2022 BY BOB HENNELLY
Five fatal medical incidents involving firefighters since December have prompted FDNY unions to demand that the department explore possible links between the deaths and so-called long COVID or the vaccine.
The UFOA wants the department to also hire an independent epidemiologist to review the deaths, three of which were reported by the Fire Department because they happened on duty and two that were not.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association also said that as a consequence of the pandemic, the FDNY had fallen far behind on the annual physicals required for active-duty firefighters and members of Emergency Medical Service.
“They do 10,000 medical exams a year and they have completed just 9,500 in the last two years—so potentially there are several thousand members that have not had a medical since the onset of COVID,” Andy Ansbo, UFA president, said during a phone interview. “We owe it to the
Firefighters that worked through COVID to get a baseline of their heart and lung functions because as we all know COVID has been known to cause long-term heart, lung and random organ damage and this could be related.”
The UFOA’s president, Lt. James McCarthy, said he has been getting numerous calls from concerned members. “Let’s get the department on the record on these recent deaths that aren’t thoroughly explained,” he said. “You have to be like a detective. Is there a common thread between these? Can we say it is surviving COVID or is it the combination of firefighting and COVID or is it vaccine related?”
The public-reporting system administered by the Centers for Disease and Prevention has recorded 12,775 preliminary reports of deaths of people who received a vaccine, a fatality rate of 0.0023 percent. But the submission of information to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which has proven susceptible to misinterpretation and misreporting, does not in itself mean a vaccine is the source of a health problem, only that it has been reported as such.
‘Learn from 9/11’
Vincent Variale, the president of DC 37 Local 3621, which represents the FDNY EMS officers, said looking for potential long COVID symptoms in the FDNY’s workforce was critical because “the department’s annual medicals were suspended for some time.”
“We should learn from the lessons of 9/11, when we saw many members get respiratory diseases and that means we should investigate and research our people that have long COVID,” Mr. Variale said.
In a statement, the FDNY said it “ will work with the UFOA—and all unions—to address their concerns. The health and safety of FDNY members is paramount.”
Dr. Edward Zuroweste, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the negative health impacts from the pandemic go well beyond the virus itself and include the disruption of well-established wellness programs like the FDNY’s annual physicals.
“There’s no question that what the pandemic has done is really sidetrack a lot of the safety measures that are done for all kinds of things,” said Dr. Zuroweste, who has practiced occupational health medicine for migrant farmers. “People are not getting their cancer screenings. People are not following up with their chronic illness—everything is out of kilter.”
Most active-duty members of the FDNY, on both the firefighting and EMS side, have had a bout with COVID and subsequently got vaccinated. Two active-duty Firefighters succumbed to the virus as did several members of EMS. Close to 400 New York City civil servants have died from COVID.
3 recent active-duty deaths
According to the FDNY unions, dozens of active-duty firefighters have been sidelined by the virus. A Penn State College of Medicine study, “more than half of the 236 million people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since December 2019 will experience post-COVID symptoms—more commonly known as ‘long COVID’—up to six months after recovering.”
Multiple peer-reviewed medical studies have concluded that those long COVID symptoms can vary greatly, ranging from minor to severe, even disabling. Post-infection symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, fever, pain, brain fog, anxiety disorders, lung abnormalities, cardiovascular issues including chest pain and palpitations, skin conditions and digestive issues.
The passing last month of Firefighter Jesse Gerhard, 33, after a medical episode a day after he fought a two-alarm fire in Far Rockaway, was just the latest in a string of active-duty deaths since Dec. 8 when Probationary Firefighter Vincent Malveaux suffered “a medical episode during training” the day before at the FDNY Training Academy on Randall’s Island. He was just 31.
On Dec. 26, FDNY Lt. Joseph Maiello, 53, died after he was found unconscious at his Staten Island Firehouse. The Medical Examiner determined the 22-year department veteran died from heart disease.
According to Mr. Ansbro, under long-established department policy, Mr. Gerhard should have gotten a health screening at the scene of the two-alarm fire. When asked if that had occurred at the scene of the Far Rockaway fire, the FDNY would only say there was an ongoing investigation.