By CBSNewYork Team

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – At the height of the pandemic last year, paramedics in New York City responded to more than 7,000 calls a day.

The amount of trauma they witnessed was a heavy burden many are still carrying.

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As Mola Lenghi reports, the calls kept coming, and EMTs like Deputy Chief A.J. Briones of Empress Ambulance Services kept answering. On the front lines of the COVID pandemic, what those EMTs saw is tough to shake.

“You never had time to think,” he said. “Once it started slowing down, that’s when you actually had to worry.”

Worry, he said, about the toll on the mental health of paramedics.

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“PTSD is a rabbit hole. You get angry for no reason, you lose who you are,” Briones said.

Eileen Mondello was an ICU COVID nurse when she received a call that her 23-year-old EMT son John had taken his own life.

“My son had dreams of a future, and that was taken by this pandemic,” she said.

John Mondello was fresh out of the EMT academy when the pandemic hit.

“He was sent to the busiest 911 call volume in the city,” Eileen said.

She says stress and anxiety consumed him.

“I think that realization of, yeah, I’m here to save lives. But I can’t save you. I didn’t realize how that affected me until very recently,” said John’s partner Delilah Woods.

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Woods, Shakira Tate, and Alexander Puszka spoke with Mola Lenghi about the mental health of EMTs.

“There’s definitely days where I didn’t sleep. There’s definitely days where I had dreams of– people hanging themselves. I guess at one point– I was having suicidal thoughts myself,” Puszka said.

“We definitely do need a better support system that’s in place for all first responders,” Tate said.

“Does the FDNY have enough mental health resources in place?” Lenghi asked.

“I believe they have enough now, but to say that it’s enough for forever, no. It’s an ongoing process,” said FDNY EMS Lt. Krystal Hayes, who is a peer support coordinaor.

“Would it surprise you to hear that some EMTs say that more resources are needed?” Lenghi asked.

“No, not at all. Sometimes people need more than what we can provide. And then we can either outsource them to somebody who can help them better than what the department can,” Hayes said.

In Yonkers, Briones says the strongest thing someone can do is ask for help.

“It’s not a ‘been there, done that’ attitude. It’s, ‘I’ve been there. I know how to help you,'” he said.

“I want there to be– more counseling made available. My biggest hope is that no mother should ever feel the way that I do,” Eileen Mondello said.

If you need immediate help, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. It’s free and confidential.

FDNY offers a similar hotline to EMTs and has a counseling services unit which provides a range of therapy options for groups and individuals, giving them a chance to talk to current and retired members who can help.

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Mola Lenghi contributed to this report. 

CBSNewYork Team