Violence against paramedics on the rise, union says

December 20, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"Physical harm is what we contend with on every shift," said Margaret Heckmann, a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department.

Heckmann and fellow paramedic Michele Martinez recall an instance when they were called to the River North neighborhood.

A suburban man named Jonathon Soto appeared to be lying on his back, intoxicated. Martinez and Heckman helped him into the ambulance.

"As soon as I went to the front of the ambulance to get the computer I heard sounds in back. I said Margaret, are you ok? She said no, he is biting me," Martinez said.

She said Soto continued to fight and bite both paramedics- and then began to choke her. The assault became so violent that Martinez called for a 10-1, which is the signal used for a first responder who is about to be killed.

"For us to go through this is not right and if I were too let him go and something happened to him, I lose my job even though I got choked," said Martinez.

By law, paramedics are responsible for their patients. There is also a law that protects paramedics- it is a felony to assault a first responder.

Despite this, the firefighters union says many cases- including Soto's- are knocked down to misdemeanors. On Wednesday, a Cook County judge sentenced Soto to supervision and community service.

"We are not going to allow our members to be assaulted, battered, spit on. We are out here to help people, not to fight these people," said Tom Ryan, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

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