EMTs learn to defend themselves; Dangers of job go beyond saving lives.
It took less than 10 seconds but Dudley Fire Department Capt. Paul Konieczny won't soon forget the moment an angry man grabbed him in a bear hug, forced him through a closed door and slammed him into a pickup truck with such force that an impression of his body was left behind in the metal.
"It was over like that," Capt. Konieczny said, recalling that the elderly man he'd been tending to was still inside the house, injured and needing help.
Police and firefighters, who in Dudley are also EMTs and paramedics, were called out in June to a domestic violence incident in which a man had allegedly hurt his father then fled from their home.
While Capt. Konieczny and his partner tended to the elderly man, the son returned and quickly grabbed the captain. When he landed on the ground outside, Capt. Konieczny raised his elbow and hoped the man who'd overpowered him would stop. He did, but not before police used pepper spray to subdue him.
"It was an awakening," he said. "Dudley's a nice blue-collar town with about 11,000 people. I grew up here. You see that stuff in the city all the time but not here."
Now, after completing a three-session class on defensive tactics for EMS, Capt. Konieczny said he might react differently in a similar situation.
Matthew Mullen, a veteran paramedic who works for Worcester EMS and an ambulance service in Natick, began teaching the classes in March.
He received special instructor training and said the Escaping Violent Encounters for Fire/EMS program, offered by DT4EMS, was the best he could find when he began looking for a protective measure after a fellow paramedic was bitten by a patient and struck the man in order to free himself only to learn he'd put his job at risk.
Mr. Mullin said he's seen a growing interest from EMS personnel who want to help patients but feel the incidence of violence toward them from those they're helping seems to be growing.
"There aren't many statistics kept on this because being assaulted was seen as part of our job," he said, adding that many assaults
go unreported unless a serious injury results.
The defensive tactics for EMS class focuses primarily on safety and emphasizes the use of maneuvers that are not designed to injure.
There are deflecting hand movements, verbal skills and last-resort physical force - all simple and designed to become second nature after the training.
The program was designed by a paramedic-turned-police-officer from Missouri who was trained in martial arts. More than 70 instructors teach the courses across the United States.
Mr. Mullen said the class encourages a bigger focus on safety starting from the moment the ambulance is dispatched.
EMTs and paramedics are taught to be more aware of their surroundings, to "stage" a safe distance away if they are unsure whether a scene is safe and how to avoid an attack.
"Not everything is 100 percent," Mr. Mullen said. "But this is a tool that can help."
Fire Chief Dean Kochanowski, a paramedic, said the class was worthwhile.
"We had already scheduled the class (before the incident with Capt. Konieczny)," he said. "But that was an eye-opener. The class was really good, we had a mix of didactic and hands on and we had fun doing it."
Mr. Mullen said he's hoping the course will be included in mandatory training for EMTs and Paramedics at more ambulance services. He also teaches a course for women.
Starting later this year new staff members at Worcester EMS will take the course, Daniel E. Meisels, administrative director of UMass Memorial EMS said.
"We don't have any specific incidents to report," Mr. Meisels said, but he agreed that new designer drugs, the economy and other factors may be contributing to a rise in violence.
"Scene safety is emphasized," he said, adding that Worcester EMS workers know the city and neighboring Shrewsbury where they also provide coverage.
They are familiar with neighborhoods where drug use is prevalent or where violence may be more likely, but they are also taught that even in safe areas things can go wrong.
In some cities where the increased violence is being noticed, there have been moves toward allowing EMTs and paramedics to carry guns.
Last month, the Dayton Daily News in Ohio reported that the fire and EMS chief of German Township in Clark County held a forum at the EMS World Expo in Las Vegas on the topic of arming EMTs.
Chief Tim Holman told the paper he'd been threatened with a gun and others on the job were assaulted by other means. He said he's studying whether arming emergency medical workers is an idea whose time has come.
But Kip Tietsort, who developed the program taught last week in Dudley, has gone on the record opposing arming EMS personnel, believing they should treat patients and use other methods to diffuse or escape unsafe situations.
Worcester EMS prohibits the carrying or weapons at work, Mr. Meisels said, adding that it's a "bad idea" to arm ambulance personnel.
Classes like the one Mr. Mullen will teach and a good relationship with local police will help keep EMS staff safer, he said.
Contact Telegram & Gazette staff reporter Kim Ring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CUTLINE: (1) Greg Smith, a paramedic with the Dudley Fire Department, practices strike blocking with Firefighter Andrew Powell during a recent defensive tactics training session. (2) Dudley Fire Department EMT Deena Cherenza takes down Firefighter Paramedic Scott Benoit during defense tactics training.
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