Brazen at­tacks on life-savers

Paramedics aren’t safe any more

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - KOWTHAR SOLOMONS

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.”

kowthar.solomons@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: MATTHEW JOR­DAAN

LIFE-SAVERS AT RISK: EMS paramedics work­ing on a gun­shot vic­tim. They are in­creas­ingly com­ing un­der at­tack them­selves from gang­sters.

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