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Lee Genser's roles as prosecutor and paramedic converge in new ways during pandemic

Lee Genser prosecutes drug kingpins in his job as an assistant district attorney in Nassau County. He has also given Narcan to drug overdose victims in the street as the longtime ambulance captain of a local volunteer fire department. But the COVID-19 pandemic has meant Genser’s two vocations have converged in new ways. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Lee Genser has taken on drug kingpins in court and revived overdose victims in the streets.

He has dashed out the door countless times to answer ambulance calls dressed in a business shirt, tie and bunker pants.

The mix of court attire and first responder gear is just one example of how Genser has blended his vocations: a job as a Nassau prosecutor and his longtime volunteer role as ambulance unit captain for Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has meant Genser’s dual roles have converged in new ways after more than a decade as both a prosecutor and first responder.

By day, Genser, 32, of Great Neck, has handled virtual court proceedings and kept up with ongoing probes for his job as senior investigative counsel in the Nassau district attorney’s Special Operations, Narcotics and Gangs bureau.

In his other time, the young attorney has responded to about 100 medical emergencies during the pandemic.

“To be a paramedic during a pandemic should be a full-time job as it is, right? But to do that and do the work he does as an assistant DA is really incredible,” Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in an interview.

Two vocations converge frequently

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The full spectrum of Genser’s experience came in handy recently when he met detectives at an off-site location two different times after they carried out search warrants. He then led decontamination efforts to prevent potential coronavirus infections.

After one of those raids, Genser also provided advice about criminal statutes in connection with the case.

On another recent day, he popped in ear pods to listen to legal training for his prosecutor job while carrying out the painstaking protocol of sanitizing the ambulance and his equipment after one of many coronavirus-related calls.

Genser earned his paramedic certification during the outbreak, on top of keeping up with supervisory tasks as his fire department’s top emergency medical services official and separately helping build treatment tents outside North Shore University Hospital.

Lessons from the pandemic

Genser said the pandemic has taught him that people are resilient and pointed to the state court system’s quick transition to virtual operations after most courthouses shut down.

“You’re having your whole perspective changed from walking into a courtroom to signing onto a Skype link to handle your cases,” he said.

Genser’s time on the ambulance has shown him that fear of coronavirus infection, and of the loss it may bring, is widespread.

He’s had to try to comfort people who realize they may never be face-to-face with a relative again because that sick person could die at a hospital where visitors aren’t allowed now.

“A lot of them are getting very upset that they might be saying goodbye to their loved ones for the last time because we’re taking them away in an ambulance,” Genser said.

His multi-tasking hasn’t gone unnoticed by his bureau chief in the district attorney’s office, Edward Friedenthal.

“He’s really working full-time as much as you can in both positions,” Friedenthal said of Genser’s prosecutor and paramedic roles.

The bureau chief also recalled examples of how Genser previously shared his EMS expertise at work, including by training colleagues in CPR and defibrillator use and helping a police officer who had a heart attack in court.

The way Genser views it, the same principle is at the heart of both his passions.

“At the end of the day, you’re helping people,” he said. “Obviously when you’re out on an ambulance, you’re helping take care of people who are injured or who are sick … But as a prosecutor … you’re giving a voice to victims who might not necessarily have it.”

A guy for 'all seasons'

Genser takes pride in doing legal work he says is taking drugs off the street and tamping down on the number of overdoses and shootings.

He has testified in court a few times as a witness because of his first responder role, including in a trial during the same week in 2012 that he began working as a prosecutor. But he said his concern when he’s manning the ambulance is patient care.

The Great Neck South High School graduate was 17 when he joined the fire department and kept volunteering while enrolled at New York University and then Touro Law Center. He now also handles publicity for the 250-member department.

“He’s the guy of all seasons … His type is unfortunately fewer and fewer,” said Mike Uttaro, a Nassau assistant chief fire marshal and former Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department chief who said he watched Genser grow from a teen volunteer into a leader.

Craig Gobbo, the department’s current chief, said Genser is part of about half of approximately 1,000 annual ambulance runs and has been “a great asset” during the pandemic.

As coronavirus-forced facility closures wind down, Genser’s expertise is also something the district attorney’s office can call on when it comes to workplace safety.

“He’ll definitely be part of the conversation of what reopening looks like for us,” Singas said.

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