BY REGINALD KANYANE
THE recent attacks on emergency personnel have left a bitter taste in the mouth of many as they say they are afraid to go out and assist. Er24 spokesperson, Chitra Bodasing Harduth said emergency personnel are called upon to help people in their greatest time of need.
“In many instances, they could be the difference between life and death. Despite their dedication to helping strangers and aiming to save as many lives as possible, the risk of finding themselves in life-threatening situations when trying to assist people in need of medical attention is increasing.
“Attacks on EMS crews have been going on for a long time. Crimes committed against them started increasing a few years ago. At ER24, just one of various emergency medical service companies in the country, there has been about 15 incidents over the past two years,” she said.
Bodasing-Harduth said some of these incidents resulted in crews sustaining serious injuries. She further said fortunately, there have not been any fatalities at ER24 to date.
“EMS personnel have been attacked, robbed, hijacked, stabbed and assaulted. These incidents either occurred while staff is responding to an incident, at a scene while attending to a patient or while on their way to or at the hospital for example.
“There have been incidents where criminals have posed as fake patients in order to attack and rob staff. Items have been stolen from the ambulance while paramedics were attending to a patient on a scene. EMS personnel attend to a number of medical-related calls in crime hotspots. There were instances where paramedics were targeted in these areas,” she said.
Bodasing-Harduth added that EMS personnel have also been seen as the “enemy” at protests and other hostile situations. She further said they have been attacked while trying to attend to patients at some of these incidents.
“ER24 launched a course called EMSHE (Emergency Medical Support in Hostile Environments) in 2011. This course is directly targeted at addressing concerns relating to violent crimes committed against EMS personnel.”
Peter van der Spuy, General Manager of Quality Assurance and Support Services at ER24 said: “The aim of the course which entails various training exercises, is to teach our staff various skills such as identifying hostile environments, how to deal with these situations and, if the need arises, how to defend themselves and the patient.
“We have found that this course has better equipped staff to deal with crimes committed against them (opportunistic crimes while attending to patients or while responding, during protests and other hostile incidents for example),” she said.
“In 2014 we introduced EMSHE 2, a more advanced course. We have seen a number of successes due to the implementation of EMSHE. In addition, ER24 also has continued education courses and workshops to better equip staff. We pride ourselves in protecting our staff,” Van der Spuy said.
“ER24 also works closely with the SAPS to ensure that it keeps up to date with trends and hotspots to further improve the safety of staff. We monitor situations and have a network which helps in identifying potential threats. ER24 works well with various local authorities and we have utilised their services numerous times. We continue to do so.
“Dealing with various incidents and scenarios can have a severe and negative impact on EMS personnel. ER24 ensures that staff members have access to trauma support specialists when required. Debriefing takes place as well,” she said.
“There are instances, such as during protests for example, where EMS personnel are either instructed not to enter a hostile area until it is cleared by authorities or are escorted by authorities to gain access to patients.
“There are also cases where the patient has to be brought out to EMS personnel. With this said, we also have processes in place to determine which crews, based on their experience and training, will go into these areas should the need arise,” said Van der Spuy.