Two recent attacks on EMTs have prompted one ambulance company to hold a self-defense course Tuesday for its employees and for firefighters.
The course comes less than three weeks after a Boston EMS supervisor was attacked during a medical call for an unconscious person, one day after an emergency medical technician was stabbed several times in an ambulance.
“EMTs in general were outraged, but I don’t think anyone was surprised,” said Ben Podsiadlo, Armstrong Ambulance Service’s clinical director, who has been an EMT for 31 years. “It was just so scary and nearly fatal that it left everyone thinking wow, that could have been me. There’s nothing worse than the sense of betrayal you feel when you’re trying to save someone’s life and they try to hurt you or murder you. All you can do is avoid them, flee them or defend yourself. There’s no law that we have to be human punching bags.”
Armstrong Ambulance Service will host the course at the Saugus Public Safety Building for local EMS providers and firefighters. The company will hold more courses for EMTs and paramedics elsewhere in the coming weeks.
“This topic definitely has come to the fore,” said Podsiadlo. “We’ve all had basic training in this. But there’s been a lot of demand for more from staff, so we wanted to do additional training immediately.”
The course will be taught by Larry LeDoux, Armstrong’s basic life support clinical coordinator.
“It’s becoming a popular request,” said LeDoux, a 36-year veteran firefighter who was contacted Monday by the Medford Fire Department to do the same training. “Spontaneous violence we can’t predict, but we can look for cues and learn how to protect ourselves.”
First responders often find themselves in volatile situations involving people who are intoxicated or mentally ill.
Podsiadlo said he has been spat at, punched in the face, had a gun pointed at him and was nearly thrown out a second-floor window.
“It’s important to be aware of your surroundings,” Podsiadlo said. “If you walk into a situation that you think is dangerous, call for help. If you’re cornered and unable to flee, you have every right to defend yourself and your patients.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2,600 EMS workers received hospital treatment in 2014 for injuries resulting from work-related violence.
The National Fire Protection Association cited a 2015 survey of roughly 1,800 EMS personnel that found that 69 percent had experienced some form of violence on the job in the previous 12 months. A third had been punched, slapped or scratched; about 30 percent had been spat at; 11 percent had been bitten; and more than two-thirds had been verbally abused.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimated that in 2016, about 3,500 EMS workers were sent to the hospital with work-related injuries from violence.