By Marissa Parra

CHICAGO (CBS) —  At least a dozen EMTs from here now find themselves on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus at the epicenter in New York.

CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported Thursday on how they’re stepping up to help a city in crisis.

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It’s part of a national partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Administration: 250 ambulances, and 500 EMTs from around the country, including eight rigs from local ambulance service Elite.

“Oh it’s bad. Ninety percent of our calls are sick calls, and half of those calls are positive for the coronavirus,” said Chicago EMT Joaquin Jimenez.

New York is his temporary home, so he can help with a historic number of 911 calls.

“I’ve never seen 7,000 calls in EMS. To give you some perspective, that’s more than 9/11,” said Anthony Almojera, vice president of the FDNY EMS Officers Union.

Higher numbers but less staff to respond.

Which is exactly why Chicago EMT Joaquin Jimenez is one of 16 paramedics with Illinois’ Elite Ambulance, who drove roughly 800 miles to New York to answer the call for help- a call they never stop answering.

“When we first got here, they were holding 500 emergency calls. In the two days we’ve been here they’re now down to five calls a day,” Jimenez said.

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The 24-year-old said seeing the videos of overwhelmed hospitals in New York is one thing, seeing it in person is another.

“You’ve got patients out in the hallway, inches from each other in beds,” Jimenez said. “Normally they’re at least 10 feet from each other. But now they’re back to back… it was almost impossible to walk through.”

Paramedics are short on sleep and gear, but Jimenez said they’re trying to stay safe and healthy… as much as a paramedic could in a pandemic’s epicenter.

“At first I wasn’t [nervous about getting coronavirus], now I am. Now I’m hesitant to go into residents’ homes,” Jimenez said. “If we can, we try to keep them in an open area with circulating air. We’re trying to wear gowns and wear as much PPE as possible.”

Superior Ambulance Service has also donated local EMTs and ambulances to New York, saying they have the resources to do it because nationally, private ambulance companies are seeing a 20% decrease in transport volumes.

Both services said local response remains a top priority.

A spokesperson for Superior released this statement:

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“Like much of healthcare, COVID 19 has produced many changes. Such as there are fewer patients being discharged from hospitals resulting in fewer transports. Private ambulance companies are seeing a 20% decrease in transport volumes. We need to do what we can do to keep our men and women employed and avoiding layoffs. As an industry we are in daily contact with IEMA. We have the ability to bring the resources back from NY as needed.”