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Union: EMS lieutenants are only FDNY supervisors who ride alone, adding to danger

Vincent Variale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621, says Capt. Alison Russo might still be alive if someone had been with her


FDNY EMS Lt. Alison Russo was on duty, just steps away from EMS Station 49 in Astoria on Sept. 29, when she was stabbed. She died later at a hospital. She was promoted to captain at her funeral on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

Photo/Shawn Inglima/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service

Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — When they leave the safety of their stations, FDNY EMS supervisors have no choice but to go it alone — a sobering circumstance union leaders suspect could have played a role in the vicious unprovoked attack of Lt. Alison Russo, the Daily News has learned.

EMS lieutenants are the only city first responder supervisors who do not have an aide or a driver to accompany them when they leave the station or respond to emergencies, an oversight unions are hoping that the city quickly corrects.

“We’ve been fighting this argument for years,” Vincent Variale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621 told The News.

But, because of staffing holes, emergency medical technicians and paramedics can’t be pulled from ambulances and put in a responder car with a lieutenant, Variale said.

“You have to fill the roster of ambulances first and then if there are people left over our officers can get an aide, but it’s difficult to make it happen,” he said.

Russo was on duty, just steps away from EMS Station 49 in Astoria on Sept. 29 when Peter Zisopoulos 34, attacked her, knifing her more than 10 times. She died at a local hospital.

The 24-year FDNY veteran, planned to retire in a few months, was alone when Zisopoulos killed her, police said.

“If there was an aide with her at the time, there would have an extra pair of eyes that saw this guy coming,” Variale said. “It could have made a difference and that’s where the tragedy lies.”

After the stabbing, Zisopoulos ran back to his nearby home and surrendered to authorities after a brief standoff with police. He was arraigned on murder charges Thursday while handcuffed to a hospital bed at Bellevue, where he is undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric exam.

As EMTs and paramedics respond to medical emergencies in their designated neighborhood areas, EMS lieutenants respond in their SUVs to lend assistance and make sure everything is done properly.

Lieutenants can get to scenes before an EMT and paramedic crew and start medical treatment by themselves, Variale said.

EMS captains mostly stay in the station and only respond to major emergencies, so they rarely need drivers, union members said. Higher-ranking EMS members, such as chiefs, have a driver with them so they can be free to talk on the radio.

On the fire side of the FDNY, chiefs have drivers assigned to them. Captains and lieutenants don’t, but always ride in the fire truck with the firefighters from their engine or ladder company and are never sent to an emergency alone, union officials said.

In the NYPD, sergeants and higher-ranking officers are always given a driver or a partner when out in the field. For that shift, the cop is “assigned as driver to a ranking officer” to “operate car for entire tour” and “monitor radio messages directed to an assigned area when supervisor is out of car,” the department patrol guide states.

“Our supervisors are the only ones in civil service that don’t have an aide or someone to help them,” Oren Barzilay, the president of Local 2507, which represents rank and file EMTs and paramedics. “They go everywhere alone.

“Hopefully the city will listen to us and make the changes that prioritize the safety of our members,” he said.

“It’s very important that staffing improve so our lieutenants can have an aide who can drive while the lieutenant monitors and coordinates operations on the radio and type on the computer,” Variale added. “It’s dangerous to do all three things at once.”

When she died, Russo couldn’t even use her SUV or fly car to get around — it had broken down and needed maintenance, Variale and the FDNY confirmed.

“She was waiting for roadside (assistance) when this happened,” Variale said.

An FDNY spokesman said that the department “regularly reviews its polices and procedures.”

“A review is already underway to see where we can improve and increase the safety of our members,” the spokesman said.


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