THUNDER BAY – Paramedics are asking for body armour to ward off an increasing number of assaults they’re facing in the field.
Kyle Stamler, vice-chair of Unifor Local 39-11, said it’s becoming increasingly dangerous for paramedics in Thunder Bay, where a rash of socio-economic and addiction issues have led to violent incidents against emergency responders.
This past weekend Thunder Bay police reported three separate incidents of EMS workers being assaulted on duty.
The first involved an allegedly intoxicated youth, who became aggressive and assaulted a paramedic before police arrived at the incident, which took place Friday at about 11 p.m. in the 400 block of Wiley Street.
The second occurred just after midnight on Saturday, when officers were dispatched to Enniskillen Avenue, after paramedics asked for assistance dealing with an intoxicated female who was acting erratically.
She later became combative with paramedics and fled the scene, but was quickly located by police, who calmed her down and agreed to receive medical treatment, later transported to Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
The third incident took place at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday at an Arthur Street hotel.
A female refused to leave the lobby and allegedly assaulted a paramedic already on scene.
Nonetheless, EMS crews were able to transport the woman to hospital for treatment of injuries from a prior event.
“There’s a lot of increasing drug and alcohol use in the city,” Stamler said. “The city is a little less innocent and a little more violent than it used to be. Sadly the calls we end up going to involve those types of situations.”
The danger is real, he added.
“The most common assaults are punches, kicks, spitting – things like that. But we do know that a number of people in the community are carrying more weapons, edge weapons, even hand guns,” Stamler said.
“There’s a fair bit of that in Thunder Bay. And our paramedics do respond to those calls. There’s a high risk anytime we go to these calls.”
As a response, the City of Thunder Bay and Superior North EMS have installed signage in ambulances outlining that assaults against paramedics will not be tolerated and charges could be laid should one occur.
“More recently we’ve had some self-defence training, in a limited capacity, that is supposed to give basic street sense to paramedics to be able to use,” Stamler said.
“One of the things we’re requesting as a union is looking into ballistic armour. Police officers and security guards often wear bulletproof, stab-proof vests. That’s something we’re hoping to see ... in the future.”