Saving lives carries a risk

By Brendan Manning


Northland ambulance staff are dealing with aggression on a daily basis but a "zero tolerance" policy and personal protection training aims to keep staff safe.

St John Northland operations manager Tony Devanney said Northland staff often felt threatened due to the volatile, tense and alcohol-fuelled situations they went into. A personal protection course had also been introduced to help staff deal with volatile situations and defend themselves where need be.

"We have zero tolerance to aggression and abuse and we will just walk away."

Ambulance workers now feared heading to Moerewa after a crew was targeted last Thursday, he said.

The ambulance was returning to Kerikeri about 4am when it had to stop in Moerewa as large rocks and debris had been placed on the road. Ambulance officers got out of the vehicle to clear the debris and came under fire from "idiots" throwing rocks.

St John spokeswoman Sarah Martin said every effort was made to ensure staff attending emergency incidents had up-to-date safety training, appropriate safety equipment and, where necessary, co-ordination with other emergency services.

"Our officers make allowances for patient and bystander emotions, which can run high at emergency incidents.

"However, assaults of any kind are unacceptable. St John has a zero tolerance policy toward assaults on our staff."

The last ambulance officer killed in the line of duty was a volunteer who died in a car crash on the way to an incident.

"Once an officer is paged, technically they are on duty," said Ms Martin. She added it was not common for police to accompany ambulance staff to callouts. However, they were in attendance when prisoners were treated.

Meanwhile, recent figures have shown that, while there have been no assaults reported this year, St John Ambulance staff were involved in 570 accidents in the past financial year. Of that figure, 14 accidents occurred in Northland.

Six happened while undertaking manual handling activities, three falls/ trips/ slips, four miscellaneous physical accidents and one ergonomic.

Mr Devanney said back injuries were common due to the awkward position and situations ambulance staff got into.

"Whether they're in cars down ditches or extremely obese people, we have to get out of the house."

A new handling policy had developed better lifting techniques and new specialised equipment, such as lifting belts, had lowered the number of injuries.

The facts:

14 accidents in Northland in the past financial year, 23 in 2010/11, 17 in 2009/10.

No assaults in Northland in the past financial year, one in 2010/11, two in 2009/10

- Northern Advocate

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