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In wake of Capt. Alison Russo's death, union leaders demand New York City invest in EMS safety

Unions say it's time for NYC to invest in EMT safety
Unions say it's time for NYC to invest in EMT safety 02:15

NEW YORK -- The death of Capt. Alison Russo, a 25-year veteran of the FDNY, is fueling the conversation about EMS safety.

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis has reaction from first responders who spoke out after the arraignment of her alleged killer.

A week after Russo was brutally murdered while on duty and a day after her emotional funeral, the man charged, Peter Zisopoulos, pleaded not guilty. The 34-year-old appeared in court virtually from Bellevue Hospital.

Defense attorneys said he has a past psychiatric history dating back to 2018.

"We believe that he doesn't understand the charges against him and we are asking for an exam," one said.

READ MOREPeter Zisopoulos pleads not guilty to murder, weapon charges in stabbing death of EMS Capt. Alison Russo

FDNY members who packed the courtroom rallied after the hearing, pushing back on the mental health defense.

"He murdered her, knew what he did was wrong, and ran away," said Vincent Variale, president of Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621.

Russo's tragic death is fueling the conversation about EMS safety.

"With an EMS lieutenant, we are responding to all those dangerous emergencies by ourselves. No partner, no driver, no aid. Why?" Variale said.

"There is no other city agency in safety that rides alone," added Oren Barzilay, president of Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors Local 2507.

Anthony Almojera is an EMS lieutenant at Station 40 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. For years he has been pushing for partners for those in his role, like Russo.

"Whether it's an emotionally disturbed person, a shooting, a stabbing, fire, whatever comes into the 911 system, I'm alone. It's nerve wracking," Almojera said, adding when asked what the city needs to do, "Invest in EMS."

Almojera, who is also an FDNY EMS union leader, is calling for better equipment, bulletproof vests, and more staff.

"Right now, there's about 3,400 EMTs and medics. There should be 6,000," Almojera said. "They need to make our pay and benefit structure the exact same as NYPD, fire, sanitation, so that people come on this job and they stay."

He said he's hoping change is on the horizon as a way to honor Russo's service.

"You want to honor Alison? You make sure that we all have every opportunity to live during the course of our day," Almojera said.

A spokesperson for the FDNY said the department regularly reviews its policies and procedures, adding a review is already underway to see where it can improve the safety of its members.

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