Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem paramedics request body armor to protect themselves from irate patients

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Saying it's the worst environment he's seen in 34 years in the business, Bethlehem's EMS Director Thomas Decker says paramedics need body armor to protect themselves from being attacked by the very people they are attempting to assist.

"The level of threats, disrespect and violence (against EMS workers) is the worst I've seen," Decker told council during Monday night's second budget hearing. "It's a matter of safety for paramedics."

The situation has gotten so bad, according to Decker, that equipping paramedics with body armor, once an option, is now a necessity in the city of Bethlehem.

Driving his point home, Decker said had he known that so many patients would be so angry when he got into the profession in 1983, he would have gone into another line of work.

The violence will cost taxpayers and some paramedics money. The EMS section of Bethlehem's 2018 proposed budget contains two separate line items that address the issue.

The first would equip 23 full-time EMS employees with body armor, including a carrier, vest, shock plate, armor skin and shirts in the amount of $19,310. The second is a line item for 29 part-time paramedics in the amount of $19,590. The part-timers will have to pay $275 toward the cost of the protective gear.

Councilman Eric Evans said "it's a shame" that paramedics have to handle irate individuals just for showing up to work.

Mayor Robert Donchez said that when he was educated on what paramedics were facing in the field, he supported the request of funds to better ensure their safety.

Decker said the vest does not limit paramedics’ ability to perform their duties.

Wearing of the body armor vest will be mandatory when an individual is responding to a call, but can be removed at other times, such as at the station.

Council members could only speculate as to the causes of the anger.

President William Reynolds said that many people in society today are "irrationally angry." 

However, some of it could be attributable to something more than just angst, Decker said. Opioid cases have increased sharply in the last year alone. In addition, his paramedics are encountering intoxicated individuals and patients with behavioral problems.

The bureau provides pre-hospital emergency medical service at the basic life support and advanced life support level.

During 2016, EMS responded to more than 11,500 calls and transported more than 9,400 patients to the hospital.

In other news from Monday night's budget hearing, council reviewed the budgets of various departments, including police, fire and 911.

The city's third 2018 budget hearing is scheduled for November 28 in Town Hall. Council will vote on the budget in December.

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