Am­bos sup­port call

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Front Page - BY DEAN LAW­SON

Hor­sham paramedics have joined a statewide ap­peal for com­mu­nity sup­port to en­sure au­thor­i­ties con­tinue to work on mak­ing their work­place as safe as pos­si­ble.

De­spite feel­ing a mix­ture of anger, frus­tra­tion and anx­i­ety over the re­sult of a court case in­volv­ing the as­sault of a para­medic in Mel­bourne, they said they re­mained com­mit­ted to ‘pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble care for the com­mu­nity’.

But they added they needed com­mu­nity sen­ti­ment to weigh in heav­ily to en­sure they, as ev­ery­day peo­ple in the

com­mu­nity, could get home to their fam­i­lies af­ter a day’s work.

Hor­sham para­medic Kristy Kelly, speak­ing for a Hor­sham para­medic group and part of Wim­mera am­bu­lance re­sponse teams since 2006, said she was bound pro­fes­sion­ally to avoid com­ment­ing too openly about the court case.

But she said com­mu­ni­ties needed to be aware of what paramedics were be­ing ex­posed to, some­times daily.

“I feel com­pelled to speak on the view of at least the Hor­sham team be­cause we all feel the same way,” she said.

“For ex­am­ple, dur­ing my time in the job, I’ve been hit, slapped, spat on, pushed and of course been sub­ject to all sorts of ver­bal bar­rages.

“I’ve been called ev­ery num­ber of names un­der the sun – and this has all hap­pened, not just in a far­away metropoli­tan set­ting, but in the Wim­mera,” she said.

“Un­for­tu­nately this is be­com­ing more fre­quent, to a point where it is caus­ing a lot of ex­tra stress and pres­sure on top of what we deal with in our ev­ery­day lives. We can be pretty tough, but there comes a point where oc­cu­pa­tional vi­o­lence shouldn’t be the nor­mal part of the job.”

Hor­sham paramedics were keen to make their point in re­sponse to a Mel­bourne Mag­is­trate’s Court find­ing in­volv­ing a 22-year-old man who, while un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs at Rain­bow Ser­pent Fes­ti­val at Lex­ton, at­tacked and se­ri­ously in­jured a para­medic.

The man avoided a min­i­mum six­month jail term de­spite the State Gov­ern­ment in­tro­duc­ing new laws in­volv­ing at­tacks on emer­gency work­ers last year.

The court in­stead handed the man an 18-month com­mu­nity cor­rec­tions or­der and or­dered him to un­dergo manda­tory treat­ment.

The find­ing last week drew im­me­di­ate and an­gry crit­i­cism from the Vic­to­rian Am­bu­lance Union and calls from var­i­ous sources for the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Prose­cu­tions to ap­peal the sen­tence.

Paramedics across Vic­to­ria mean­while, have re­flected their thoughts with com­ments chalked onto the win­dows of am­bu­lances.

Mrs Kelly said the gov­ern­ment and Am­bu­lance Vic­to­ria had worked hard in es­tab­lish­ing new lev­els of pro­tec­tion be­cause there was a need for emer­gency-ser­vice work­ers to be­lieve the sys­tem had their back.

She said paramedics re­sponded to var­i­ous cir­cum­stances with call-outs rang­ing from ma­jor road trauma to se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tions and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“Of course we’re of­ten ex­posed to a broad level of hu­man be­hav­iour. All we want to say is that it’s not okay to as­sault am­bos and we want to get home safely to our fam­ily and loved ones like ev­ery­one else,” Mrs Kelly said.

“I do this job be­cause I care about peo­ple. I’m 15 years in and I still love it. Sure there are the sad mo­ments but there are also a lot of pos­i­tives – we have some re­ally good out­comes where we help peo­ple. We’re also learn­ing all the time and work­ing in great teams.

“But at the same time we are con­cerned that this won­der­ful pro­fes­sion might be con­sid­ered too haz­ardous and an un­safe oc­cu­pa­tion for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It’s se­ri­ous stuff.”

Vic­to­rian Am­bu­lance Union gen­eral sec­re­tary Danny Hill pulled few punches last week in his re­sponse to the court find­ing.

“Our mem­bers cam­paigned hard for changes to leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect emer­gency work­ers. Our mem­bers have been left won­der­ing ‘what will it take for courts to send a mes­sage that as­sault­ing a para­medic is wrong?’ Paramedics will do any­thing for their pa­tients and for the com­mu­nity but we are wait­ing for courts to have our back in the same way we have theirs,” he said.

We know we’re well past the stage of telling so­ci­ety to ‘have a good hard look at it­self’ when it comes to how we treat our emer­gency-ser­vice work­ers.

But that, it seems, is what we col­lec­tively need to do to en­sure the level of re­sponse we’ve come to ex­pect in a mod­ern and pro­gres­sive Aus­tralia can con­tinue.

Re­spect is the key word in this for­mula. Re­spect for the per­son, re­spect for the po­si­tion and role, re­spect for the uni­form and re­spect for the so­ci­ety the uni­form rep­re­sents.

Po­lice, paramedics, State Emer­gency Ser­vice vol­un­teers, fire­fight­ers, life-savers and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als – all have jobs that ben­e­fit us, ev­ery­day peo­ple, who need con­fi­dence in know­ing they are pro­vid­ing ser­vices that pro­tect, res­cue and save.

As com­mu­ni­ties, we should not need re­mind­ing that we need to look af­ter them.

Just imag­ine if these ser­vices and peo­ple, who take on these of­ten thank­less jobs, did not ex­ist.

Vic­to­rian paramedics have ev­ery right to feel dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated and to be­lieve that ef­forts to help keep them safe through courts have failed.

We sus­pect fresh out­rage in re­sponse to an of­fender who at­tacked a para­medic es­cap­ing jail will lead to even more tight­en­ing of laws in­volv­ing at­tacks on emer­gency-ser­vice per­son­nel.

The re­al­ity is that so­ci­ety sen­si­bil­ity should be nip­ping this is­sue in the bud long be­fore it gets to ugly con­fronta­tions and court cases.

There is no ex­cuse to treat any­one, es­pe­cially paramedics who have a pro­fes­sional duty to help peo­ple, with bla­tant dis­re­spect, let alone like a punch­ing bag.

There are ob­vi­ously some sit­u­a­tions that might lead to ir­ra­tional be­hav­iour that need spe­cial man­age­ment – such is the na­ture of trauma where med­i­cal treat­ment is nec­es­sary.

But poor be­hav­iour, re­gard­less of whether it is un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol or other drugs, is sim­ply un­ac­cept­able.

Again, it is all about un­der­stand­ing the role re­spect plays in so­ci­ety.

Adding to the dis­ap­point­ment is hear­ing from paramedics that this type of be­hav­iour is be­com­ing more com­mon in the Wim­mera – our neck of the woods for good­ness sake – where the chances of peo­ple in­volved in in­ci­dents know­ing each other is high.

If our peo­ple are do­ing this as well as oth­ers in far­away Mel­bourne and other larger cen­tres, then we too need to have a good hard look at our­selves.

Pic­ture: DEAN LAW­SON

CON­CERN: Hor­sham-based paramedics, from left, Paul Ja­cobs, Gemma Pfeif­fer, Kristy Kelly, Ge­or­gia Baker, Ai­den Gio­nis, and Mo­bile In­ten­sive Care Am­bu­lance para­medic John Kelly at Hor­sham Am­bu­lance Sta­tion. The Hor­sham team has joined other Am­bu­lance Vic­to­ria mem­bers in speak­ing about their frus­tra­tion about the threat of work­place vi­o­lence.

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