Emergency medical responders are being attacked in Baltimore more frequently than in the past and should be equipped with protective vests, Rick Hoffman, president of the local firefighters' and EMS workers union, said Wednesday.

Emergency medical responders are being attacked in Baltimore more frequently than in the past and should be equipped with protective vests, Rick Hoffman, president of the local firefighters' and EMS workers union, said Wednesday.

"Obviously everyone knows we are in a very dangerous city now, and the way our EMS system works, [city residents] dial 911 and we're there in normally minutes, which means we beat the police there a lot," Hoffman said. "We're walking into a time bomb, a goddamn powder keg."

Advertisement

Hoffman said he estimates such vests, to protect medics' vital organs from gunshots and sharp objects, could be purchased for about $100,000. He called on Mayor Catherine Pugh, whom he said he strongly supports, and Fire Chief Niles Ford to make the investment.

Hoffman said his intention is not to denigrate Baltimore, which is making strides in the right direction. But he said the request had been brought to him by union members, and he felt obligated to push it up the chain of power. He said some medics have even bought their own vests.

The request comes days after a firefighter was met with gunfire after stopping to help a driver who police said had crashed a stolen car in South Baltimore last weekend. It also comes after attacks on medics have increased, particularly since the unrest of 2015, according to Hoffman's calculations.

"They get punched, they get spit on, they get the [expletive] knocked out of them once in a while, and they kind of don't report it because it's like water off a duck anymore, it's happening with such frequency," Hoffman said.

Pugh said she had no evidence to indicate an increase in attacks on medics in the city. She also said there are protocols in place that require medics not to put themselves in harm's way.

"One of the things they are supposed to do is make sure their situations are secure, and if anything is out of the ordinary or threatening to them, they are supposed to call the police department," Pugh said.

Asked about situations where medics arrive at crime scenes before police, Pugh said she had no examples of that occurring and expressed skepticism it does.

"Every situation they go into, the situation is supposed to be safe and secure," she repeated.

Hoffman said "the EMS system would completely fall apart if we had to back up and wait on a police officer to get there to make sure the scene is safe."

Because that's not an option, medics should have access to added safety equipment themselves, he said.

The fire department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to a list of incidents tracked by the union, medics have been attacked with scissors, punched and kicked in the chest, and dragged to the ground. In July 2016, at the scene of a shooting, a person stuck a gun through the window of an ambulance with two medics inside and fired two blank shots before dragging the medics out of the ambulance and threatening their lives, according to the union's account.

In January, two medics were attacked by a naked man outside a downtown hospital — an incident that was captured on footage shared by the union.

Hoffman said residents in Baltimore have had a tense relationship with the police over the years, but always respected medics under the thought that "cops might be there to do something to you, [medics] are only there to do something for you."

Advertisement

But that sentiment seems to have disappeared in some parts of the city, or lost on patients with psychiatric issues or who are intoxicated, he said.

"Our people show up in uniforms now and they're not given that same kind of deference," he said.

twitter.com/rectorsun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement