New York Firefighters and Fire Officers dressed in their personal protective “turnout gear” to salute and thank New York City’s healthcare workers at the NYU Langone Medical Center and other hospitals citywide at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Firefighters greeted healthcare workers with lights, sirens, and applause to thank them for treating coronavirus patients. The show of support occurs just days after the virus’ claimed nearly 7,000 American lives, more than double the 3,000 estimated casualties from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and its immediate aftermath.
Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA)—a union for ranking New York firefighters, marshals, and medical officers—told Newsweek the idea for the celebration came from the actions of an individual NYC firehouse whose officers recently appeared at a local hospital to thank healthcare workers for their service during the pandemic.
News of their thanks spread through social media, inspiring other firehouses to do the same. The show of solidarity makes sense, Lemonda said, since firefighters and medical workers work closely together to aid burn victims, including firefighters injured in the line of duty.
“I think there will be a fire company outside of every hospital in New York City tonight,” Lemonda said. “We’re going to give a tip of our helmet to the doctors and nurses, the heroes on the frontlines of this war.”
NYC firefighters continued responding to emergencies during their thanks, Lemonda said. He added that city firefighters chose 7 p.m. as the time to express gratitude since it’s when other NYC residents have been opening their apartment windows, cheering and banging on pots and pans to show appreciation for essential workers serving their communities during the pandemic.
While the national coronavirus death toll approaches 7,000, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported 52,948 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,584 deaths in the city thus far.
A joint-statement by Daniel A. Nigro and John Sudnik, the Commissioner and Chief of Department for the New York City Fire Department, respectively, said, “Not since September 12, 2001, has our Department faced a challenge of this magnitude. Our members are on the front lines protecting our city and responding to emergencies during a pandemic.”
The comparison of the epidemic to September 11 aligns two national tragedies that have uniquely affected New York City. However, the epidemic is distinctly different because it is ongoing.
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said the city would work to triple its capacity of hospital beds to 60,000 by May. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has plans to set up field hospitals at empty colleges on Long Island and remake the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s west side into a FEMA hospital.
Nevertheless, a national dearth of ventilators and other personal protective equipment will continue to challenge the city’s healthcare workers even with expanded care sites.
“COVID-19 has placed a tremendous strain on all of us at work and at home. We all feel it,” Nigro and Sudnik’s statement continued. “We need the cooperation and support of every single FDNY EMT, Paramedic, and Firefighter. We need to focus solely on the mission at hand, the mission we swore oaths to accomplish.”