Assaults against first responders on the rise: Is arming personnel and stiffer penalties the solution?

We may all have this image of a firefighter or EMT carrying someone to rescue or helping a thankful citizen in our heads when we think about first responder situations. However, first responders across the nation, especially in Chicago, are saying this is not always the case. ABC Local News Channel 7 reported that Chicago emergency personnel have been assaulted on the job and first responders claim the severity and frequency is getting worse.

First responder assaults on the rise—leaving individuals fearful
According to the news source, first responders told the I-Team that at least once a day in Chicago, paramedics who are trying to save lives end up fighting off an assault. Now paramedics and other first responders are constantly on the defensive.

Just this August, paramedic Brandy Kasper was treating someone who appeared intoxicated and didn’t want to go to the hospital. She told the news source that during a routine blood pressure check, she was blind-sided.

“As I leaned down, she cold-clocked me, right in the face. She punched me right in the face and gave me a nice black eye to take home to my daughters. When she connected, I felt the thumbnail, it kind of came down across here, and I just-I kind of saw stars for a second,” said Kasper.

The situation just described is hardly something only happening in Chicago. ABC Local reported that in Oklahoma, one man was angry and assaulted an EMT because the ambulance had closed off a road during a call.

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians stated that 52 percent of all EMS workers are assaulted on the job.

Chicago paramedic Melanie Howe has her own disturbing tale. A patient and his family pinned her to the floor of her ambulance until firefighters noticed and were able to remove the attackers off her.

“He says I’m going to kill you white [expletive], over and over again,” said Howe. “If they had not stayed with me, I don’t know what they would have done to me, I’m scared to think every day that I go to work is different since that day.”

Departments still without assault prevention training
First responders play a crucial role in our communities. Yet, most departments forget to protect first responders like firefighters and EMTs by providing assault prevention and reaction training. The prevalence of assaults against first responders is making new training requirements necessary. Too many unknown variables are being introduced into emergency situations and first responders need to physically and mentally prepare in order to defend themselves. Training offers first responders the ability to learn appropriate responses and more automatic actions to ward off a developing situation to avoid injury.

ABC Local reported that there is currently no paramedic self-defense training for Chicago paramedics and this department is hardly an outlier.

The Interagency Threat Assessment & Coordination Group is a joint effort by the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center and works to improve intelligence sharing with first responder communities. The organization has introduced an intelligence guide to help first responders appropriately deal with situations that may develop in the field.

Private training organizations have also been cropping up across the country to provide departments with training and greater knowledge about how to prevent, ward off and react to an assault. However, First responders must be aware of what appropriate actions they are authorized to take to ensure they don’t create additional liability for their department. Departments need to develop policies to cover these situations and ensure that their personnel receive defensive tactics training especially for those deployed into high-risk areas.

Should first responders be armed?
The debate to determine whether first responders like EMTs and firefighters should be armed. Some believe that EMTs face more violent patients and dangerous situations because they are in close proximity with citizens. The Dayton Daily News reported that Tim Holman, chief of German Twp. Fire and EMS in Clark County, Florida, is already debating whether to outfit his personnel with firearms.

The reasoning behind the decision is to improve personnel safety when they are out in the field and may not be supported by police officers.

“First-responders face many dangers, and they can be both unpredictable and severe, and I don’t see why we should deprive them of the ability to protect themselves in life-threatening situations,” Philip Mulivor, spokesman for Ohioans for Concealed Carry and a former New York paramedic, told the source. “It would be particularly sad if we had a firefighter or paramedic – God forbid – lose their lives because they did not have the same means to defend themselves that any other law-abiding citizen in Ohio can have.”

However, many people are still against the idea of outfitting fire and EMT personnel with firearms. The Dayton Daily News reported that critics believe fire and EMS workers do not have the training to think and act like officers and the added education would cost too much and take considerable time away from necessary medical training practices. In addition, those opposed to the idea believe EMTs and firefighters would be better served by being taught to escape and avoid violent situations.

Stiffer penalties for first responder assaults

Stiffer penalties for assaulting first responders is a crucial step toward decreasing this growing trend.

Chicago Fire Department officials told the news source that for cases where paramedics are attacked, they push for felony charges. In the past two years, 60 paramedic assault cases have been charged as felonies in Cook County – the majority of them ending in a conviction or guilty plea. Yet, this is hardly a positive number considering that one assault is occurring almost every day and there are many more cases that end without conviction.

Paramedic Larry Kaczmarek was attacked by a hostile mob and he told ABC Local News that most of those charged for the incident only received community service.

“I’ve heard a judge say, ‘It’s an inherent risk in your job.’ I don’t believe that,” Kaczmarek told the news source. “Going out this door, going through a light and getting into a car accident that’s a part of the job, going to somebody’s house trying to take care of a loved one and getting assaulted, that’s not part of my job.”

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Posted on Oct 10, 2013