EMS staff discuss violence and dangers Paramedics face in Newcastle

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"What is being done to protect or uplift the lives of paramedics, as they are strangely dealing with individuals attacking them, this after they arrive to save lives?"

Paramedics are the people who deal with extraordinary stress daily. Moments you and I cannot absorb, let alone comprehend, and if not for their presence, many would succumb to the illnesses or injuries afflicting them. But what is being done to protect or uplift the lives of these medical practitioners, as they are strangely dealing with individuals attacking them, this after they arrive to save lives?

When looking at media headlines, one can clearly denote this threat is indeed real—this follows numerous attacks on EMS staff around the country. One of the most recent being on Tuesday morning, 8 December 2020, when two EMS personnel were attacked while on a call in Beacon Valley, Mitchell’s Plain.

The two EMS workers stopped at the patient’s home, a man, armed with a firearm ran towards the ambulance and fired a shot through the driver’s window. While the paramedic was struck in the chest, he was, fortunately, wearing his own bulletproof vest and survived. This, however, presents numerous questions—one being, what deplorable conditions do paramedics work in whereby they have to wear a bulletproof vest and secondly, how are they expected to work under these conditions?

As shocking as this event is, it is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. With cases such as these being a recurring problem throughout South Africa, are Newcastle’s paramedics dealing with people assaulting them while they save lives?

The Newcastillian – Online News sat down with TRIVS Medical Services to establish the reality of the situation from a local perspective. Duresha Jugernath and Siyabonga Malinga, two EMS professionals, firstly stress that too often, people think paramedics are mere ambulance drivers. But this is far from the truth. Siyabonga elaborates, “It saddens me that we don’t always receive recognition for what we do. Especially as we are first on the scene, attending to the patient before the doctors see them.”

Delving further into the topic, Duresha explains that when attending to a call, EMS workers face an array of hazards, whether it be motorists when attending to a collision, chemicals at a spill and at times violence. She emphasises, “We as professionals have to treat a patient, irrespective of who they are or what they have done, but there are cases where family, friends or neighbours will threaten to hit us and take our equipment away from us if we try and treat someone.”

There have also been incidents, where bystanders will threaten to throw stones at paramedics and their vehicles if they do not leave a scene. Jugernath states, in situations such as this, they contact the SAPS to protect them while they attend to the patient. Malinga adds, “Bystanders at MVAs (Motor Vehicle Accidents), who are drunk, also give us an extremely hard time.”

Additionally, when arriving at incidents such as MVAs, Duresha says there are times when paramedics are the first people on the scene.

This then sees them taking up the mantle of securing the scene, assisting and treating the wounded, while contacting traffic officials and the police. Amidst all this, she stresses that EMS workers still have to worry about motorists who might hit them.

Facing immense emotional stress and fears daily, Siyabonga points out that EMS personnel do not work in the same conditions as those in hospitals. “We don’t go to a specific ward each day. We can rush out to a heart attack now, then to a collision, before doing CPR on a baby. We really are more exposed to danger, as we are constantly out.”

Such are the unforeseen dangers on their paths, Duresha asserts they never know what they are riding into. “We never know if we are coming back when we go out. Nor do we know if we are going to be shot at, attacked or have our equipment stolen from us if we respond to a call late at night.”

Despite the close working relationship with the police, each day is a gamble for these brave souls. Despite all the deep emotional trauma they have to deal with when a patient cannot be saved, they still have to carry a burden such as this—and to cap it all off, do not receive proper treatment from people, and are dismissively referred to as only ambulance drivers. 

Facing such challenges and serious threats, on behalf of the EMS sector, Duresha and Siyabonga call on Newcastillians to work with them, instead of against them. Their message to Newcastle and its surrounding areas, “Co-operate with us and allow us to perform the duties we were trained to do.”

There is never any need to assault or insult the EMS staff, as one day you just might be looking at the sky, filled with pain, praying to see the people who save lives. 

Share your messages of encouragement with the EMS staff below.

Authors: Quinton Boucher and Calvin Swemmer

Edited: Calvin Swemmer

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