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Richard McAllan, NYC*EMS Senior Paramedic, tireless fighter for third service EMS, President of Local 2507, DC 37, AFSCME, was an inveterate photographer. No I didn’t say invertebrate. He certainly had a backbone. I inherited these photos and videos when he passed away.
At his funeral, on March 31, 2009, in Asbury Park, there I was, snapping away. My daughter, Elaine, and my ex-wife Joyce were weeping as Rich’s pallbearers carried his casket down the aisle. A lot of people had tears in their eyes. Stephanie Velez, DC 37’s Director of the Professional Division, also showed, up, I’m not sure why. She had spent over a decade, under orders, systematically thwarting the desires of the members of the Local to obtain better pay and benefits by keeping them within a bargaining unit hemmed in by low salaries and low prestige. Rich always said that a better deal for EMT’s and Paramedics was a two-front war: the adversaries were the City of New York, on the one hand, and District Council 37, on the other.
Rich had died unexpectedly and the funeral was held in Asbury Park, so the turnout was much lower than it would have been in Manhattan, where he worked out of Metropolitan Hospital as Medic 186 for years, or in the Bronx, where he lived in Marble Hill. People were crying because of the kind of person Rich was. He would always stop to help — I mean, always. He never passed a beggar on the street without giving a contribution — and I mean, never, ever. He never got a call from an EMT or Paramedic in which he didn’t immediately shift into helpful advocacy mode. He was always ready to make the case for any member who had any kind of a shot, and back it up with his formidable legal skills and media savvy.
Irascible, quirky, stubborn, but also very good-hearted, considerate, compassionate, Rich would lock horns with anyone who disputed the right of EMT’s and Paramedics to win every measure of recognition possible. That included most of the Mayors of the City or New York from Koch onward, and most of the Executive Directors of NYC*EMS, and then the Chiefs of the EMS Bureau of FDNY. I remember that when Rich was running for Local 2507 President to succeed George Engstrom, I chanced to find a crew sitting in their PAR somewhere in upper Manhattan, and asked them who they were voting for. The male Medic sitting in the passenger seat said, “Richard McAllan. Because he’s management’s worst nightmare.” That said a lot, and I never forgot it as a testament to my friend.
1988 was the most important year in the history of NYC*EMS. In March of that year, the EMTs and Paramedics of Local 2507 had finally had enough. It had been building for many years, probably since Rich McAllan graduated as one of the first City Paramedics out of Jacobi One in 1974. Just a few years later came NYCAP, the EMS workers’ first attempt to form their own union and get out from under the thumb of DC 37. Then, unsanctioned street protests outside of HHC’s Worth Street offices.
McAllan had already become famous for violating the EMS gag order that prohibited speaking to the press by the time he was formally brought up on charges for asserting his first amendment rights in 1984. That fight would continue through the merger with FDNY, with the Department continuing to try to muzzle his right of free expression on matters of public concern.
Rich started as a dogged fighter for civil service rights for EMTs and Paramedics, and the holding of exams that would give job tenure and seniority rights. But he didn’t stop there.
Bad guys have a “crime spree.” McAllan had a free speech spree that didn’t stop. Beginning in 1979, he gave the media what they wanted on EMS, and believe me, they wanted a lot. Like bees to honey, they came as McAllan and his partners in the free speech spree including Barbara Taylor, Danny Burstein, Rich Gutwirth, Joan Hillgardner, and others, exposed the deadly delays in EMS, and multitudinous ambulance breakdowns, the response time falsification scams, the crises in EMS medical supplies, and the tragedies on the street that didn’t have to happen.
The video clips on this site show the result: a news media and public that came to know EMS workers as beleaguered heroes, as the emergency service guys and gals who always got the shit end of the stick when it came to pay, benefits, and working conditions. None of the countless news stories on EMS and documentaries like Chris Borgen’s Lifesavers would have been possible without the free speech spree team.
It didn’t take long for EMS documents on vehicle out-of-service times or the job text of a deadly delay to find their way to Mary Civiello at News 4, Vic Miles at Channel 2, Jim Dolan at Eyewitness News, or to Barbara Ross at the New York Post. The news media clobbered EMS management, demanding change, and change they got.
The results of the free speech spree are clear: By the time of the EMS/FDNY merger (also called a transparent consolidation) EMS staffing had more than tripled from 625 to 2550, EMS tour strength shot up from 275 to 525, and response times dropped significantly. After the merger, they fell even more, but the profile of the EMS workforce dropped, too. Without the free speech team on the job, EMTs and Paramedics in NYC don’t have anything like the profile they had back in the bad old 80’s and early 90’s. Do any kids watch TV, see the heroics of street medics, and say, Dad, I want to do that? FDNY has put the lid on EMS in the news, and that’s a bad thing. Those kids can now watch “the Lifesavers” on this site if they like, or ABC-TV’s, “the people of EMS.”
1988 also paved the way for Local 2507’s greatest victory, Line of Duty Injury pay for up to 18 months (LODI), which happened under Mayor Dinkins in 1990.In July of 1988, just a few months after the sickout, a court-ordered mediated settlement, the finest hour of McAllan’s two-front war against HHC and DC 37, secured wage increases using the lion’s share of a $20 million equity fund that DC 37 fought not to share, gave new overtime rights, prohibited disciplinary transfers, and set up a critical incident stress team. That document is here on the EMS Documents page.
The union’s fight, however fell short of achieving its main demand of parity with PD and Fire. That had a lot to do, unfortunately, with DC 37’s determination to keep the lid on that Pandora’s Box firmly closed. Once McAllan understood that while part of DC 37 there would be no parity within HHC or FDNY, he fought doggedly to realize the dream of parity as a separate EMS third service workforce under its own Commissioner.
What caused the uproar of 1988? It has to do with the willingness of workers to sacrifice, and their dedication to a that is more a calling than a job. In these news videos, you’ll hear several workers saying, “I don’t care if the Mayor fires me. I don’t make enough to put food on the table for my children anyway.” It was about deep anger and bitterness about being treated as second class citizens by the City and HHC, even while they worked in reflected light cast by the TV show, “Emergency” and heroic portrayals of EMS work in the local press. Yet they weren’t paid anything like the Sanitmen who picked up the garbage.
1988 also succeeded because of the union’s leadership, especially Richard McAllan and Richard Gutwirth. Smart and media savvy, they looked great on TV and spoke with authority and conviction. Even more to the point, they were both known as excellent medics. They exemplified the best in EMS. Management knew that firing them would say a lot of the wrong things to the watching public.
Not having worked as a street medic, your writer can only theorize about motivations that are deeper still. I think that witnessing life and death on the streets has a way of sinking into your bones and putting things into a greater perspective. I know that McAllan was a deeply spiritual man who believed in destiny and actually thought he had lived before, in Atlantis. Gutwirth practiced zen. Something was up with these guys, and it wasn’t just the money.
The videos and documents document that important year in the history of NYC*EMS and also Rich McAllan’s major accomplishments both as President of Local 2507 and working in other capacities for the union. Other videos and documents from before and after 1988 are also included. As the custodian of these records which Rich McAllan kept in storage for years, I know he would want no less than for them to be up on the internet for all to see.
This history shows that union members, if they have an issue of public concern and can grab it by the tail, can increase wages and better working conditions. But they have to be ready to sacrifice for that ideal. They also have to be tops at the jobs they do, because street cred is essential for this work. They have to be sharp, and on the money. But in the final analysis, not just for the money. As Gutwirth would say, “This is your job. This is your career.”
Richard McAllan's Photos Every picture tells a story -- but did he have to take so MANY pictures? Storage is pretty much free, so let's go 🙂