Paul Yoon was born and raised in Gwangju, one of South Korea’s largest cities. His father died when he was 14 years old, leaving his mother to work as a violin instructor, an insurance broker, run a convenience store, and raise Yoon and his two older sisters by herself.
Yoon began his college studies in paramedicine. When he was 20, he joined the South Korean military and served as a combat paramedic. Afterwards, Yoon wanted to finish his studies, but was ready for a more challenging program. “So I Googled to find where the best paramedics in the world were and FDNY came up,” he said, recalling how he first got interested in joining the Fire Department of New York City. He applied to LaGuardia Community College, in Long Island City, Queens, and was accepted, but his first stop was Halifax, Canada, where he spent half a year studying English and getting acclimated to North American life.
Yoon moved to the United States in 2010, graduated from LaGuardia Community College in 2013, and joined the FDNY in 2014. Founded in 1865, the FDNY is the largest fire department in the world and one of the busiest, responding to more than 1 million emergencies annually. Yoon started out as a paramedic, advanced to become a hazmat paramedic, and is currently a rescue medic, part of an elite group of highly trained paramedics involved in complex rescues ranging from fire escapes to ship evacuations.
As a rescue medic, Yoon’s biggest job to date was responding to a fire and roof collapse in Astoria, Queens, on June 20, 2017. He worked with other rescue paramedics to help a victim pinned under a scaffolding bar, providing oxygen and pain crush syndrome medication that helped the victim breathe during the two-hour rescue mission with firefighters.
Yoon has also served as a liaison for emergency medical services (EMS) professionals from the South Korean National Fire Agency at the FDNY Medical Special Operations Conference.
His FDNY commendations include the Tracy Allen-Lee Medal, the Excellent Duty award, and multiple Pre-Hospital Saves.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the always busy FDNY experienced a dramatic surge in emergency calls. In late March 2020, there were days with more than 6,000 medical incidents (compared to 3,500 to 4,000 daily incidents during the same month in 2019), according to the department. There were “many people with cardiac arrests, difficulty breathing — so many critical cases,” Yoon recalled. Yoon himself contracted the virus at the beginning of the crisis and was sick for about three weeks, but found himself touched by how his fellow paramedics checked in on him and dropped off meals at his home. “Since I came to the United States on my own, my coworkers have become my extended family,” he said.
In addition to his work at the FDNY, Yoon is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in emergency management with a concentration in emergency medical services at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He became a naturalized citizen in 2019.
For Yoon, being an FDNY rescue paramedic has been “a dream come true.” As Yoon told Carnegie, “I love my job because not only do I get to help people in times of need, but I also get to be part of the FDNY EMS family” that is working to “provide the best care to the people of New York City.”