The call came over the FDNY ambulance radio early Thursday, as EMS paramedic Corey Romanowski finished up his paperwork on a recent patient hospital drop.
It was just after 9 a.m., and Romanowski was moments away from clocking out — for the very last time.
“All Manhattan North Units,” the crackling message began.
The 58-year-old paramedic lifted his head to pay attention. “I want to give a quick thank you to Corey Romanowski for all his years of service. He has been on the job 36 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and four days,” the radio voice said. “Best wishes on all future endeavors.”
Romanowski sat with his hand over his heart, while cheers of “Good luck Corey!” and “We love you Corey!” flowed over the air.
As his partner filmed Romanowski’s reaction, the FDNY’s most senior paramedic needed to take a few moments to find the right words in reply.
After 36 years as a city paramedic, the native New Yorker had more than his share of stories to tell — including delivering an “uncountable” number of babies.
He could have gone back to 1981 and relived his first 911 call.
A young lawyer driving his motorcycle home on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway hit construction debris. It ripped his leg off at the hip.
Romanowski, a green and nervous paramedic in his 20s, got through his baptismal night — but not without asking himself more than once, “What the heck am I doing here?”
He might also have told his colleagues about the many times, working the overnight shift in Washington Heights, he sent up a prayer for steady hands as he guided a needle into a vein or prepared to intubate a critical patient.
There was even one night when he was positive his whispered pleas got an answer. A young man had flatlined in his family home on Christmas Eve after choking on the lime in his Corona beer, and given how long he’d been down before EMS even got the call, Romanowski had doubts they could revive him.
But they did — and he made a full recovery.
Romanowski might have explained to his colleagues why he always had extra blankets in his ambulance to give to the homeless and kept an open wallet to buy a meal for the hungry.
A member of EMS should “always be kind,” and “always pay it forward,” according to Romanowski’s rules.
Or, if he were the type to brag, he could have said to his EMS family that he stayed true to his rules over all 36 years in the FDNY — even on his very last call Thursday morning, to transport an elderly man to Harlem Hospital.
The weakened patient, suffering from the flu, had lamented to Romanowski that he wouldn’t get to join his buddies for their usual cup of coffee at the local Dunkin’ Donuts.
As Romanowski tucked the patient into the hospital bed, the paramedic said he needed a favor.
In his pocket was a $20 gift card for Dunkin’ Donuts. Since this was his last shift, Romanowski said, he wouldn’t need it anymore. Would the man please take it, and have a coffee with his friends when he felt better?
With tears in his eyes, the man said yes.
But instead of talking about any of the things that made Romanowski a true senior man in the FDNY, he once again paid it forward.
Picking up the ambulance microphone, Romanowski cleared his throat. Then he transmitted a brief, bittersweet goodbye.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thanks so much for allowing me the privilege to work with all of you. You’ll be missed, and always loved,” he said.
Minutes later, at 9:14 a.m., Romanowski officially punched out.
EMS Local 2507 president Oren Barzilay said Romanowski saved countless lives while at the FDNY, and his impact on the city and the department was beyond measure.
“He was a mentor to many and inspired everyone to serve with the same dignity and generosity he brought to the job every day, on every tour,” said Barzilay. “All of EMS wishes Corey the very best for the future.”
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