Workers Tell CBS 2 Harrowing Stories Of Survival As Storm Hit New York City

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some of the stories told by paramedics and emergency medical technicians about what happened during Superstorm Sandy are head scratching. In one case, orders were given to make crew changes on street corners buffeted by heavy rain and 75 mph winds.

That may be why New York City medics say their safety was jeopardized and the head of Emergency Medical Services has got to go, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday.

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The pictures tell the story — weeds and water up to the steering wheel of an EMS ambulance; medics forced to climb to the roof of their vehicle to save themselves from drowning; an EMS chief being carried out of an EMS station in a flood zone that was evacuated way too late — all of it evidence, medics said, of bad decision making as Sandy hit the Big Apple.

“The decisions that were made and non-decisions that were made are unacceptable and someone needs to be held accountable,” said Israel Miranda, president of the Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics Union.

“During the storm, EMS captains and lieutenants had not only to worry about responding or having EMTs and paramedics respond to jobs to save lives, but they had to worry about their own lives and save their own lives,” added Vincent Variale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union.

The complaints varied from paramedics and EMTs, who, fearing reprisals, asked to have their identities hidden for this story.

They start with charges that EMS stations on piers near the water — in the city’s evacuation zone — weren’t ordered to evacuate until they were already under water.

“We had to trudge through the water hoping we wouldn’t get electrocuted,” one female EMS worker told CBS 2’s Kramer.

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The workers said tour changes were made on dangerous street corners, and orders were reportedly given that workers were not to go to fire houses on high ground.

“There were quite a few transformers that were sparking and blowing up,” one EMS worker said.

“Trees, poles, branches, debris was flying past us and the ambulance was shaking,” another added.

They also charge that more than 100 EMS students were brought in to help and that experienced medics were told not to come in to avoid costly overtime.

“I was told we can’t be calling people in on overtime. We just can’t be doing it,” one EMS worker said.

A spokesman for FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano dismissed the charges as “whining about getting wet,” and Cassano issued a statement defending the head of EMS, Abdo Nahmod, adding it was his decision to have firefighters and EMS personnel ” … stay in service and in quarters during the storm for as long as possible. Our members, along with the Police Department, were the last line of defense for the people in the communities we serve.”

The charges made by the medics are just the tip of the iceberg. CBS 2 has hours of interviews with furious EMS personnel. On the other hand, CBS 2 reached out repeatedly to the fire commissioner, who oversees EMS, to hear the Department’s side of the story.

Those requests were declined.

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