It has been a whirlwind three and a half years for Erin McDonough as a Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
The Center for Homeland Defense and Security alum (Emergence Program cohort 2201) started the job in June 2019 and within her first eight months sustained a serious knee injury during an attack by an emotionally disturbed man, forcing her to miss months of work during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that shook New York City. When she returned three months later, McDonough helped respond to the Summer 2020 street riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Shortly after that, McDonough was encouraged to apply for the CHDS Emergence Program by FDNY Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness Chief and CHDS alum Tom Currao (Master’s Program cohort 0803/0804) and she was accepted and started the program shortly afterward.
Then, as she was engaged in her first Emergence in-residence session in September 2022, McDonough got the news that someone she considered a mentor—Lt. Alison Russo-Elling—was randomly stabbed to death just steps from the Astoria, Queens, station where she was working the final months of her career before retirement.
McDonough was so shaken by the tragedy that it prompted her to switch her Emergence change initiative away from human trafficking to one she said she hopes will help first responders survive attacks.
Dubbed “FDNY Personal Alarm Device to Protect EMS Personnel,” the proposal calls for issuing personal alarm devices to all FDNY emergency medical personnel with guidance to wear the device on their belt loops at all times. It aims to “attain bystander help and deter a potential attacker, or threat to emergency medical services personnel, as well as to buy time to notify necessary resources and allow them to arrive.”
“Most violent attacks happen in silence,” McDonough said, quoting retired former FDNY EMS Chief Lillian Bonsignore, and she noted that while EMS personnel carry radios they can use to report attacks, they’re only heard at dispatch and don’t make any ampflied sound on scene. “A personal alarm device could have given [Russo-Elling] a few more seconds [to get to a radio]. My hope is it will alert bystanders and could deter attackers.”
McDonough said she presented her Emergence change initiative to Bonsignore before she retired and was told to conduct research into the proposal. She said she has also been working with an FDNY research and development team on the proposal and has presented to R&D leadership. She said she is also in the process of setting up a meeting with current FDNY EMS Chief Michael Fields about her initiative.
Most recently, McDonough said she made a presentation on the proposal to the FDNY procurement committee in an effort to secure funding for a pilot program, and was told to continue working with the R&D team on testing of the PADs in preparation for the pilot program.
McDonough, who is from a family of firefighters and paramedics, said she was motivated to join the FDNY as an EMT by her mother, a volunteer EMT.
She said she also found a family atmosphere at CHDS, full of support and encouragement.
“I really enjoyed the [Emergence] program and the friends I made there,” McDonough said.
The CHDS Emergence Program, according to McDonough, gave her an “opportunity to meet so many people from all around the country and [from] different professions that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It really instilled in me that I’m not ‘just an EMT,’ that my opinions and ideas matter. It also showed me so many paths I could take as I progress further in my career.”
She said her No. 1 highlight from the program was “meeting everyone from the speakers and the instructors to my cohort mates, and especially Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran,” and added that the “experience of being in Monterey at the [Naval Postgraduate School] was definitely noteworthy.”