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.