Brazen attacks on life-savers
Paramedics aren’t safe any more
CRIMINALS are increasingly making hoax calls to lure paramedics into ambushes where they are attacked and robbed.
Western Cape Health EMS spokeswoman Keri Davids said 16 cases of assault and attempted hijackings had been reported this year. Other incidents were happening almost daily.
Paramedics have reported being attacked with knives, guns and broken bottles. Attempts at hijacking are believed to be behind many of the attacks, but they have never been successful, thanks to the awareness of the paramedics and in certain cases the antihijack button which disables the vehicle.
Apart from the assaults, another 52 traumatic incidents have been reported. Paramedics’ safety has been threatened and there have been run-ins with members of the public and occasionally gangs.
Recently paramedics were caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout while attending to a patient. Gangsters had returned to finish off the patient.
Theft and robbery are relatively common, with staff losing watches, cash, GPS devices, bags and cellphones, and even medical supplies. In one case an oxygen tank was stolen.
“When a vehicle arrives on scene, priority one is the patient and the ambulance may be left unattended. That’s when thieves take advantage.”
Most cases go unreported as paramedics prefer to forget the incidents and get on with their work.
“Due to the nature of the attacks it’s nearly impossible to track the assailants down. Paramedics generally want to move on as soon as possible and not be involved in a drawnout investigation,” said Davids.
“These incidents happen almost daily and have become a real concern. But paramedics are dedicated to their jobs and cannot ignore a call for help even if they suspect it may be a false alarm.”
The most common modus operandi is for gangsters to lure one of the paramedics out of the vehicle, and then attack them individually.
In a recent case two paramedics were attacked during an emergency call-out in Site C, Khayelitsha.
“As one of the paramedics moved between the shacks he was ambushed by a gang and severely beaten,” said Davids.
“A second group emerged from nearby bushes and… attempted to hijack the ambulance. Luckily, the second paramedic was still inside the vehi- cle and managed to grab his partner into the ambulance, which immediately sped off.”
In another case, a pregnant paramedic was beaten with a golf club while responding to a call-out.
Hotspots for false call-outs are Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha and Elsies River.
The attacks, and the level of violence, have caused a major drop in morale, with many paramedics taking sick leave.
“We provide counselling and debriefing but the effects of an attack can be debilitating. In one case, a paramedic suffered extensive flashbacks and had to be booked off for a length time.
“By right they can withdraw from an area and come back with a police escort but the time lost might cause the loss of a life,” said Davids.
Davids asked people to be vigilant and help protect ambulances and their personnel by informing neighbours and providing strength in numbers.
Western Cape Health MEC Theuns Botha said the decision to release information on the attacks was partly prompted by the increase of attacks.
“I think it is appropriate that people are made aware of the dangerous conditions in which EMS paramedics work.”
LIFE-SAVERS AT RISK: EMS paramedics working on a gunshot victim. They are increasingly coming under attack themselves from gangsters.