After months on front lines, New York EMTs receive vaccines

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New York City firefighter emergency medical services personnel are vaccinated against COVID-19 at the FDNY Fire Academy in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK – Verena Kansog hasn't visited her mother in a year, fearing her work as a New York City paramedic would expose her to the coronavirus.

But after a grueling separation, Kansog is headed home for the holidays after becoming one of the first members of the city's fire department to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It means the world to me,” she said. “I understand people are hesitant to get it, but I really hope they follow our suit.”

After nine harrowing months, the Fire Department of New York began vaccinating its own members Wednesday, starting with the front-line EMTs who this year responded to more than 1 million emergency medical calls throughout New York City.

The rollout marked a milestone for an agency that’s been pushed to the brink and seen more than a third of its 17,000 members test positive for the coronavirus.

But the relief was dampened before the vaccinations began by the death late Tuesday of medical dispatcher Evelyn Ford, the 12th member of the department to succumb to the virus.

Ford, a 27-year employee, made headlines a decade ago after she answered a 911 call and helped coach a Staten Island mother through the home birth of a child who had arrived sooner than expected.

“She was kind, respectful and believed in the job that we all do,” said Lillian Bonsignore, FDNY’s EMS chief. “All first responders put their lives on the line every day for the chance that they can save another’s life. And they accept the fact that, along the way, you give up your own. She understood that.”