Why I Became an EMT...and Then Left
by Nicholas Reiner
Mar 23, 2016 | 15451 views | 12 12 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nicholas Reiner is a resident of Sunnyside.
Nicholas Reiner is a resident of Sunnyside.
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This January, as my 48th birthday approached, I began training at the FDNY EMT academy in Fort Totten in Queens. I’d been working as a filmmaker, real estate agent and bartender and wanted to do something truly meaningful with my life: save others.

So, I took a six-month EMT course and got licensed. A year later, I was being led by a Marine Corps drill instructor at the Academy.

Only certified EMTs and paramedics enter the academy, and my class of 120 probationary EMTs was the first ever to be trained using strict military discipline.

Along with the usual classroom instruction, there was a crew of drill instructors whose purpose it was to “haze” the probies using FDNY techniques.

The first day of physical training at the fort was a shock to the system. It was a cold January day and we did many stretches followed by exercises in fast succession: plank poses, push-ups, sit-ups and squats.

We ran up and down a hill six times and did sets of push-ups in between each trip. When the six laps were completed, we did more push-ups, ran around the huge field and returned to do an endless plank-pose.

All exercises were done with our faces perilously close to the massive amounts of goose poop that covered the field.

During the first week, we learned to sing Marine Corps cadences running miles around the fort, filling in short breaks with sets of push-ups, leg-raises and other repetitive exercises.

Punishments were given out if a probie was late or if uniforms were not in place and perfectly clean. The culprit had to carry a 20 or 40-pound bag full of weights for a week depending on the measure of the mistake.

A mistake by one was considered a mistake by all, and the drill instructors yelled insults over us while we struggled to finish our punishments.

Once four probies broke the taboo of carrying a cell-phone on the grounds. One of them tried to hide it. As we did never-ending leg-raises in the winter cold the yells came, “You’re all liars! How does that make you feel? When one of you lies you all lie! Disgusting!”

At the end of a long day, one of the probies broke down crying in front of the class as he explained that he had a problem with authority. He had yelled at one of the classroom instructors and was forced to stand and watch as we did rounds of exercises before being sent home.

Because two missed days meant being removed from the program, probies came in sick. One deathly ill probie showed up late with a disheveled uniform and had to carry the 40-pound bag.

I was maintaining well over the mandatory passing grade of 75, but was distracted from my goal of learning to save lives. Maybe a little more focused yoga would benefit future programs instead of 100-yard sprints down broken asphalt roads.

Still, as I sang the cadences and ran in time day after day, I began to understand the reasoning behind the physical torture. The FDNY was trying to create a new breed of EMS workers: super EMTs and paramedics, who were more physically and mentally fit then those who came before.

We were going to be workers that would respond in situations of stress as programmed, as close to a machine as possible. It reminded me of similar experiments from history that didn’t work out so well.

To take the pledge to be an EMT or a paramedic with the FDNY is an honorable undertaking. I have two young children and the demands of the job as I grew to understand it at Fort Totten along with the starting salary of $31,931 didn’t fit the life I wanted for my family. I’m going back to real estate.

The band of brothers and sisters that make up the FDNY EMTs and paramedics have each other’s backs. They do one of the most demanding jobs in the world with skill, integrity and honor. It’s such a travesty that the greatest city in the world doesn’t pay them even close to what they deserve.

Days after my departure, I was witness to an accident where my services were in need. I stabilized the patient’s spine until EMTs arrived. I will utilize the skills I learned at the Fort whenever necessary and when they graduate on March 30 I will smile, thinking of all the probies completing training.

Nicholas Reiner is a resident of Sunnyside.

Comments
(12)
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E. Vega
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January 03, 2018
As a member of the FDNY and former EMT, I see this article as a whiny diatribe from a person who couldn't make the cut. The job of saving lives in the largest EMS agency in the world is not one to be taken lightly. Members of the FDNY EMS go out every day in all weather conditions and in all types of dangers and should be prepared as such.

The must be physically and mentally fit enough to carry heavy patients and well as heavy mental stress. The "hazing" you refer to is nothing more than imposing a small load onto the potential professional rescuer to see if they can handle a fraction of the stress load that will be placed in their laps in a few short weeks. If you can't handle a little bit of yelling in a controlled atmosphere, how can you handle it when you have a baby dying in your arms while the parents shouting insults at you because you're not moving fast enough for them?

Can't run up a hill? Try carrying a 400lb person down the stairs for the 4th time this week.

Instead of publishing a poorly narrated article in a local paper about why you couldn't cut it in the greatest EMS agency in the country, why don't you take your literary talents and petition for a change in pay for those you almost called brothers and sisters so that they too, can survive with their two kids on a paltry $31,000 a year Because there are? almost 5000 of them doing it.

Well, 5000 - 1. And I , for one, am grateful for that minus one.

-Eddie Vega
Nick Reiner
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February 05, 2018
Eddie Vega,

I wrote this as a plea for more $ for EMTs. That’s about all. Ten thousand people have read it so I feel my writing has helped. 100% ok with me that you don’t like the article as that’s your opinion. From my side I stuck with the program until all the training was done (had a lot less trouble with the stairs than most as I’ve had physical jobs much of my life) and we were basically at the testing stage. I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time at that point. The cash just wasn’t enough. Plain and simple. Nothing but respect and admiration for all first responders. Sorry if you don’t hear me that way.
E. Vega
|
January 03, 2018
As a member of the FDNY and former EMT, I see this article as a whiny diatribe from a person who couldn't make the cut. The job of saving lives in the largest EMS agency in the world is not one to be taken lightly. Members of the FDNY EMS go out every day in all weather conditions and in all types of dangers and should be prepared as such.

The must be physically and mentally fit enough to carry heavy patients and well as heavy mental stress. The "hazing" you refer to is nothing more than imposing a small load onto the potential professional rescuer to see if they can handle a fraction of the stress load that will be placed in their laps in a few short weeks. If you can't handle a little bit of yelling in a controlled atmosphere, how can you handle it when you have a baby dying in your arms while the parents shouting insults at you because you're not moving fast enough for them?

Can't run up a hill? Try carrying a 400lb person down the stairs for the 4th time this week.

Instead of publishing a poorly narrated article in a local paper about why you couldn't cut it in the greatest EMS agency in the country, why don't you take your literary talents and petition for a change in pay for those you almost called brothers and sisters so that they too, can survive with their two kids on a paltry $31,000 a year Because there are? almost 5000 of them doing it.

Well, 5000 - 1. And I , for one, am grateful for that minus one.

-Eddie Vega
JAY EM
|
April 04, 2018
The article explained the hard work that FDNY EMS workers put in to get where they are and explained that the pay was not enough to raise two kids on.

Your comment makes me concerned about the reading comprehension skills of our state employees.
Nick Reiner
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August 03, 2017
http://riverdalepress.com/stories/emts-deserve-a-pay-raise-now-more-than-ever-before,62274
Nick Reiner
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March 16, 2017
An FDNY EMT was run down by her own ambulance today and killed and her partner critically injured. So unfair and one of so many reasons the pay has to go WAY up! It is a very dangerous job. In the line of fire out there. Rest her soul. A very sad day.
nick reiner
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March 17, 2017
Update: The partner will be ok.
Ananymous
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April 13, 2016
Its called discipline, learning responsibility, and bettering yourself.
Jackie P.
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April 01, 2016
A great piece with a little peek into the seldom seen or heard of world of the life of Probies in the FDNY's EMT/Paramedic training program. Would love to see and read a bigger expose on this subject. I think this is an issue that needs to be examined in more depth, especially the shameful wages that are barely livable for such a noble and essential service that our great city relies upon so heavily..and sadly even now more than ever with the constant threat of a potential terror attack. Thanks for pulling this out of the shadows and shedding a bit of light on this subject. Nice work Nick Reiner.
nick reiner
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April 01, 2016
Thanks Jackie. Appreciate your comments.
Nickreiner
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March 30, 2016
Amen Dave. 100% with you.
Dave S.
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March 29, 2016
I used to work at the Fort Totten outpost with the Army. Quite interesting to hear what the EMS Academy has turned into. I like it.

Now, if only they were paid as they should be. Politics and the ruthless business of labor negotiations are probably holding that up for years. But paying a fast food worker $15 an hour is just fine...right, Governor? This state is so backwards, it amazes me. These unsung heroes deal with the dirtiest, filthiest, sickest, most horrid scenes one can imagine, and they keep coming back for more. They are a very special breed, and should be compensated as such.

I hear all the stories of unions taking a supposedly good 11% raise over 6-7 years. That's just not going to cut it. NYC, STOP PLAYING FINANCIAL GAMES WITH THESE PEOPLE AND GIVE THEM WHAT THEY DESERVE. Bless them all.

-Dave