Attacks On Paramedics In Portland On The Rise
PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland paramedics and EMTs train in self-defense after recent attacks.
An increase in violent attacks in the Portland Metro area against paramedics and EMT’s has sparked American Medical Response (AMR) to start training their employees in self-defense.
Inside an empty conference room at their Clackamas operations center, EMTs and paramedics with AMR practiced dodging attacks with weapons, blocking punches, and fighting their way out of the corner of a room before someone could throw them into a wall.
“They're trying to knock you out,” said lead paramedic Jeff Birrer, who was leading the class. “So even a predatory fighter is going to throw just these big haymaker punches.”
This training comes shortly after paramedics were assaulted during a medical response on August 12.
“We didn’t get into this into this profession for people to take out their aggression on us — we got in this industry to help people in crisis,” said EMT training officer Tim Case.
Case said he’s seen an increase of local assaults towards emergency responders over the past few years.
“To have the things where we’re the helpers, to then being the ones needing the help,” said Case. “It’s disheartening for sure.”
The group would remain in that class for eight hours Friday, as part of AMR’s newly launched Combative Patient course.
The curriculum was developed over several months, said training officer Tim Case, after heads with AMR began noticing a change in the rate of attacks reported on crews in the field.
“I think the level of intensity and the frequency of report of these instances is just increasing for sure,” he said.
Both Case and Lieutenant Rich Chatman with Portland Fire & Rescue admitted numbers on just how common these attacks have become are hard to gather.
Both agencies, historically, haven’t made a priority of cataloging attacks on crews in the field because, until a couple of years ago, it wasn’t that common.
Paramedics have been attacked with pipes, stabbed with knives and have taken pepper spray to the face.
“Those are the most obvious glaring cases for why there’s a need for this,”said Case.
“More and more EMTs are dealing with people with mental illness, drug or alcohol affected, or are homeless and have all these big crises going on in their lives,” said fellow trainer Jeff Birrer. “And they are, for some reason, choosing to lash out on the people who come to help them.”
AMR employees from Clark, Clackamas and Multnomah counties are now attending their first defensive tactics class.
The goal is not to teach these paramedics how to fight — but instead teaching how to deescalate, evasion tactics and how to keep their distance.
“We work in an uncontrolled environment,” said Case. “We're in somebody's living room. We're on the street. We are in the back of our ambulance, and the attackers have access to anything. We don't know if they have weapons. We don't know if they have anything that can be used to hurt us.”
There have been a string of reported assaults on EMTs and paramedics in 2019, including when a patient allegedly hijacked an ambulance during transport and when two female paramedics said they were punched and pepper-sprayed during a call.