An Aberdeen Fire Department EMS crew locked itself in its ambulance Tuesday night when it arrived on the scene of an emergency call in Perryman and encountered a large fight, prompting questions the about the safety of first responders in what two knowledgeable public safety officials concede is a changing county.

The ambulance was responding for a call of a sick woman in the 400 block of Daugherty Lane around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Richard Gardiner of the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association and Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. Both have been involved in public safety issues for more two decades or more.

The woman, Hopkins said later, was suffering from withdrawal from some type of medication.
When they arrived, members of the EMS crew reported people were fighting in the road and they “locked themselves in the unit for their own safety,” Gardiner said.

After taking shelter in the ambulance, the EMS crew called 911 to report the situation, making note that items, possibly rocks, were being thrown at the ambulance.

More than 30 people were fighting outside the medic unit, according to Gardiner, and the unit was “basically surrounded with people fighting and throwing things at each other and was not safe to leave.”

So many people were in the area, he wrote in an e-mail message, that the ambulance couldn’t get out safely through the crowd without running the risk of hitting someone.

“So they stayed out, called the police and locked themselves in the unit,” Gardiner wrote.

Sheriff’s deputies responded and, when they arrived saw no one near the ambulance, Hopkins said.

The patient for whom the ambulance had been dispatched was uncooperative and would not speak to police.

Deputies spoke to EMS personnel, who then reported nothing had been thrown at the ambulance and that they locked themselves into the vehicle out of fear of the crowd and fight.

It is unclear whether things were thrown and didn’t hit the ambulance, or if the ambulance was targeted by the things being thrown, Hopkins said.

Deputies checked the surrounding area and could not find anyone who acknowledged being  involved in the incident, he said.

No report was written because there was neither damage nor injuries, Hopkins said.

The woman was taken to a local hospital, Gardiner said.

Unusual for Harford

The incident Tuesday is unusual in Harford County but not entirely unexpected, both Hopkins and Gardiner said.

“It does happen, but it doesn’t happen that frequently,” Hopkins said.

In addition to being chief spokesman for Harford's main law enforcement agency, Hopkins is a former sheriff’s deputy who is also chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company and has extensive fire, EMS and police experience. He was speaking primarily from a law enforcement angle.

Hopkins and Gardiner both said, however, that Harford County has more incorrigible elements than it once did, and the potential for risks to the safety of first responders is a sign of that shift.

The county has more people and more crime, Hopkins said. While there is more violent crime in the Route 40 corridor where Tuesday’s incident occurred, Hopkins continued, in general the EMS side is seeing an increase in domestic incidents, an increase in overdoses and, “sadly,” an increase in suicides countywide.