I-Team finds paramedics targeted while saving lives

October 2, 2013 (CHICAGO)

You could hardly blame paramedics if they felt some paranoia on every call. First responders tell the I-Team that at least once a day in the City of Chicago, paramedics trying to save lives, end up fighting to stay alive.

It's happening across the country and right here.

"It's so unpredictable," said Brandy Kasper, paramedic.

"Six people turned into 12, a mini mob kind of formed, and the physical violence started," said Larry Kaczmarek, paramedic.

"We had nothing. No warning," said Melanie Howe, paramedic.

Sirens blare, paramedics roll, help is on the way. The I-Team rode with Ambulance 49 in Englewood among Chicago paramedics trained to save lives, but always on the defensive in case they need to fight for their own.

"You have something that seems like a benign situation and then all of a sudden it escalates. We have nothing to protect ourselves," said

In late August, paramedic Brandy Kasper was treating someone she says appeared intoxicated -- who didn't want to go to the hospital-- and during a routine blood pressure check, she was blind-sided.

"As I leaned down, she cold cocked me, right in the face. She punched me right in the face and gave me a nice black eye to take home to my daughters. When she connected, I felt the thumbnail, it kind of came down across here, and I just-I kind of saw stars for a second," said Kasper.

One man was mad at paramedics in Oklahoma because their ambulance call had closed off the road, and similar incidents have happened to 52 percent of all EMS workers according to the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. Here in Chicago, paramedics tell the I-Team, it's much worse. They say citywide, there's at least one assault every day.

"He says I'm going to kill you white [expletive], over and over again," said Howe. Paramedic Melanie Howe says a patient and his family pinned her to the floor of her ambulance until firefighters had to rip the attackers off of her.

"If they had not stayed with me, I don't know what they would have done to me, I'm scared to think every day that I go to work is different since that day," said Howe.

While there is no paramedic self-defense training for Chicago paramedics, this private company has trained EMTs elsewhere.

"You don't really realize it's happening, but it does happen, way too frequently," said Jeff Larsen, CFD assistant deputy paramedic.

Chicago Fire Department officials say after incidents when paramedics are attacked, they push for felony charges.

"The law allows any assault on police or fire to be prosecuted as a felony charge, not just a misdemeanor battery or anything like that," said Larsen.

Cook County State's Attorney records show in the past two years, 60 paramedic assault cases have been charged as felonies, with the majority of them ending in a conviction or guilty plea.

"I've heard a judge say, 'It's an inherent risk in your job.' I don't believe that," said Kaczmarek.

After a hostile mob attacked paramedic Larry Kaczmarek, he says the bashing only resulted in community service for most of those charged. Kaczmarek wants stiffer penalties.

"Going out this door, going through a light and getting into a car accident that's a part of the job, going to somebody's house trying to take care of a loved one and getting assaulted, that's not part of my job," said Kaczmarek.

City fire officials say police and prosecutors determine the severity of charges after an attack. A spokesperson for the Cook County State's Attorney maintains that her office has never rejected felony charges in a paramedic attack when police have asked. On Wednesday night, officials of the Chicago Firefighters Union says when one of their members is beat up, they plan to pack the courtroom.

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