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EMTs Face Real Danger While Helping Public

BOSTON, MA — It’s taken for granted that law enforcement officers and firefighters go to work every day with no guarantees they’ll come home.

Imagine the terrible stress not only on our local heroes, but their families. It’s just not possible to escape the worry over how dangerous these jobs are.

As reported by the Boston Herald, Wednesday’s knife attack on a Boston EMT — as well as industry statistics — illustrates that first responders have dangerous jobs, too.

In the incident, Boston EMS Chief Jim Hooley said EMTs were transporting a female psychiatric patient from East Boston to Massachusetts General Hospital when the suspect became “unruly and attacked,” stabbing a female EMT with a weapon. Hooley said a second EMT, who was driving the ambulance, pulled over immediately and went to the back to assist his co-worker. The suspect had a chemical spray, which she used on the second EMT, he added.

The victim underwent surgery Wednesday night and is expected to make a complete recovery.

Unfortunately, attacks on EMTs are not unheard of — they’re just underreported.

The NFPA Journal, a magazine from the National Fire Protection Association, said the problem is worse than most people know. “Spend time with any cop, EMT or firefighter who has run enough medical calls, and the war stories come pouring out. Responders are frequently bit, spat at, kicked, punched and cursed at. Sometimes they’re beaten, stabbed and even shot at. Hand-to-hand grappling with drunk, high, mentally disturbed or enraged patients has become a normal part of the gig,” the group reports.


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 NFPA 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.

Reporting on the issue lists suspected factors for attacks on EMTs — some people being treated are inebriated or high on drugs or alcohol, some are mentally ill — but there isn’t enough hard data to draw conclusions. EMTs receive different training — some represent firefighting organizations, some represent medical care facilities, some are working for private, for-profit businesses — so training methods will vary.

And it’s uncertain how much of that training dwells on how to deal with an unruly patient: the patient the EMTs are trying to provide with life-saving care.


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