BY AMBER JAMIESON AND SUSAN EDELMAN ON DEC 8, 2014
SOURCE: NEW YORK POST/Firehouse
She’s the FDNY’s “Sleeping Duty.”
The city stripped EMT Serele Ehrlich of her lieutenant’s rank after co-workers and bosses accused her of sleeping on the job an astounding 12 times.
The 57-year-old serial snoozer endangered the public for half a decade while on duty — snoring during training sessions, dozing at her desk and catching some Zs behind the wheel of her command vehicle, the FDNY contended.
Ehrlich slept so deeply, co-workers claimed, she missed phone calls to her desk and radio communications while on patrol. Even flashing lights and blaring sirens failed to rouse her, they complained.
Yet it took more than a dozen complaints over five years before the FDNY took any action against her.
The department tried to fire Ehrlich in 2012, charging her with the sleeping incidents, chronic lateness and going AWOL six times in 2009. A city administrative judge upheld six snoozing charges but recommended only a 45-day suspension, saying Ehrlich had an otherwise unblemished history.
Then-Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano disagreed but backed off firing her and instead demoted Ehrlich to paramedic, writing in November 2013, “The Department should not and will not wait until Lt. Ehrlich’s misconduct results in significant, perhaps deadly, consequences for the public and/or those she is tasked to supervise.”
The city Civil Service Commission upheld the demotion last month.
Ehrlich’s alleged slumbers read like a bad dream. Among them:
- Now-retired Deputy Chief JoEddy Friszell found Ehrlich passed out behind the wheel of her command vehicle outside Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn in 2007 with an open map resting on her chest — and could not wake her. “I put every single light on in my vehicle, flashing in her face, and she did not budge,” he told The Post. “I blew the siren, and she did not budge. I took pictures, because she did not budge.”
- Friszell said he once discovered Ehrlich sleeping at her desk. He called her on the phone to wake her up, telling her, “You ought to turn around, because I’m in your office behind you.”
- Friszell charges Ehrlich once fell asleep on duty in her car while stopped at a red light. “Thank goodness she didn’t take her foot off the brake,” he said. Ehrlich denied this and noted no complaint was ever filed.
- Capt. Vincent Hanlon, now retired, said he found Ehrlich reclined in the driver’s seat of her command car parked outside Station 58 in Canarsie in May 2009. He twice tapped on the window — and even called her on the radio while standing next to the car, according to his claims. She did not respond until he smacked his palm against the window, he said. “I wouldn’t call it a nap. She was sound asleep,” he recalled. “When she woke up, I expected to see slippers on her feet.”
- In July 2011, Ehrlich was responsible for leading a monthly drill in Station 58. Chief Robert Hannafey, the Brooklyn commander, walked in and found Ehrlich at the supervisor’s desk — “head back, mouth open, snoring,” while two EMTs watched a training video, he testified at Ehrlich’s hearing, showing photos.
- As the assigned “conditions officer,” Ehrlich had to monitor and manage 16 employees in eight ambulances on March 2, 2012. That day, Capt. Dinorah Claudio, commanding officer of the Ocean Hill station, took photos of Ehrlich asleep at 8 a.m. in her patrol car on the corner of the busy Rockaway Boulevard and Dean Street, in full public view.
Ehrlich claimed she was reading the newspaper and may have “briefly closed my eyes for a second.” She said Claudio had it in for her after Ehrlich found the captain gave a paramedic unauthorized days off.
Ehrlich denies ever sleeping on the job or missing an emergency, calling it “a witch hunt” by spiteful colleagues. But she acknowledged, “I might have a mild case of sleep apnea.”
“I never hurt nobody,” the 20-year veteran said. “I gave my life to the department. What they’ve done to me is so unfair.”
Her demotion to paramedic took effect last Dec. 6, but Ehrlich — who made up to $90,000 as a lieutenant with overtime — then let her paramedic certification lapse. She was demoted again in August to EMT, with her salary dropping to $48,153.
While serving in EMS, Ehrlich moonlighted as the owner of a Brooklyn baby-furniture shop — and still runs the business on the side, The Post learned.
Co-workers believe Ehrlich, who always worked the overnight shift, came to work tired because of the Midwood business, Brooklyn Baby.
“She would . . . go to sleep every night,” Friszell said of Ehrlich, who worked the night shift.
Ehrlich has owned the business for 33 years. She told customers last week that the Avenue M store was undergoing repairs but to call her any time from 7:30 a.m. to midnight to place orders or to arrange house calls.
An FDNY spokesman called Ehrlich “an active EMT.” But Ehrlich said the department has put her on an unpaid medical leave since October.