Bulletproof medics



August 11, 2016
Bulletproof medics

PRECAUTION: Medics have armed themselves with bulletproof vests and tazers

Fearful paramedics taking measures to protect themselves

Paramedics are taking their safety into their own hands by wearing bulletproof vests and carrying tazers to protect themselves from ruthless skollies.

But the solution is a double-edged sword, according to one paramedic, who says while a vest might protect them from bullets, it is also painting a target on their backs.

Some medics have taken this drastic step after a spate of attacks on ambulance personnel on the Cape Flats in recent months.

About 70 cases are reported annually, according to the province’s Emergency Medical and Forensic Pathology Services spokesman Robert Daniels.

In an incident last month, EMS paramedics attending to an incident in Happy Valley informal settlement, Blackheath, were ambushed, robbed and assaulted by four men.

The situation is so bad even the Pagad G-Force has offered armed escorts into crime hot spots.

Neither measures have been sanctioned by the Western Cape Health Department, who says it’s still looking for ways to keep staff safe.

Two EMS paramedics spoke to the Daily Voice on condition of anonymity.

One says his bulletproof vest saved his life when he was stabbed three years ago.

The intermediate ambulance assistant of 18 years says the vest is his personal property.

“I’ve had mine for four years and it saved my life. I decided to get one because we go into a lot of dangerous areas and I have a family that I want to go home to everyday,” he says.

He was stabbed while attending to a patient.

“The knife went into the back of my vest, fortunately I wasn’t injured,” he recalls

But another ambulance assistant says a bulletproof vest won’t solve the problem.

“Some [of my colleagues] wear bulletproof vests but I don’t have one,” he tells the Daily Voice.

“If I was issued with one, or had money to buy one, I’d wear it but then we would still be in danger. We go to places where they shoot.

“The department doesn’t recommend that we wear bulletproof vests because if the gangsters find out, they will rob us,” he says.

The medic says he was almost robbed at gunpoint, but managed to drive off.

WCHD spokesperson Marika Champion says ways of “minimising the risk” to medics are considered, and asked communities to protect staff.

“We are engaging all our stakeholders which include the unions to find ways to preserve the safety of staff,” she says.

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