At least three Boston EMS personnel have been assaulted on the job since July 10. Credit: Getty Images
As reported in a recent NFPA Journal cover story, "The Toll of Violence," today’s paramedics and EMTs face increasingly high levels of on-the-job violence, perhaps more than at any time in history, according to researchers. Evidence to support the claim piles higher all the time.
On July 10, a Boston EMT was stabbed at least seven times in an ambulance while she was assisting a patient en route to the hospital. The patient suddenly became “unruly and attacked” the female EMT, then pepper sprayed the driver when he pulled the vehicle over and came to assist, Boston EMS alleges. The EMT, whose name has not been released, is currently recovering from surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is expected to make a full recovery.
However, as detailed in "The Toll of Violence," when attacks against responders occur, the resulting psychological wounds can often outweigh the physical ones and take longer to heal. Those interviewed for the article said that emergency medical professionals are increasingly jaded and fed up with the brutal violence they suffer at the hands of those they try to help. The situation has contributed to increased suicide rates in the profession, as well as an increase in the number of workers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), research has revealed.
“I think the situation is dire—and I can say that because I’ve talked to paramedics all over the country,” Jennifer Taylor, the director of the Center for Firefighter Injury Research & Safety Trends (FIRST) at Drexel University, told NFPA Journal. “When I ask paramedics to tell me about their physical injuries they sustain when they’re assaulted, they don’t want to talk about that—they want to talk about the psychological impact.”
Taylor and her staff at Drexel are undertaking a multi-year study into the issue, which includes efforts to better understand how often violent incidents against first responders occur, and to test methods that can better protect responders from violence and the physical and emotional injuries that result.
No one doubts that the road ahead is a long one. Just a day after the EMT stabbing, a Boston EMS supervisor was allegedly shoved and struck several times in the head and upper body by a bystander while responding to a medical emergency at a South Boston pizza shop. The alleged attacker, a 37-year old woman who seemed aggravated that EMS was blocking her entry to the pizza shop, has been charged with assault and battery. The EMS supervisor was not injured in the incident.
In a press conference last Friday, Boston EMS Chief Jim Hooley said that there were 19 assaults against EMTs reported in 2018, a number that has already been eclipsed this year.
“So far this year, we’ve had about 31 (EMTs) assaulted,” Hooley said. “That concerns me, because sometimes I wonder if weren’t reporting it in the past, but I don’t think so. I just think the overall numbers are up.
“We’re worried about the long term effect on our personnel,” he added.