Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Teens take paramedic hostage

Hijacking of ambulance by drugged pair highlights dangers of officers working alone.

Single-crewing of ambulances poses a risk to patients' health and officers' safety. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Single-crewing of ambulances poses a risk to patients' health and officers' safety. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A woman paramedic was hijacked in her ambulance by two drug-addled teenagers when answering a 111 call on her own - then had to keep working to take one of their friends to hospital.

One of the youths threatened to kill the ambulance officer working alone in Warkworth, north of Auckland, unless she drove to help their two friends who were overdosing on drugs.

"You need to hurry up and f****** drive bitch or I will f****** kill you," the ambulance officer was told, according to her incident report to St John obtained by the Herald.

She managed to escape by pushing one of them out the passenger door and driving to the police station.

The case highlights potential dangers paramedics face while working on their own.

The Government agreed to give an extra $48 million over four years to pay for 100 new paramedics following a Health Select Committee review in 2007, after union concerns that "single-crewing of ambulances in some parts of New Zealand poses a risk to patients' health and at times ambulance officer safety".

"This is placing a huge strain on ambulance officers and putting lives at risk. No ambulance officer should be faced with the dilemma of having to choose between treating a patient or driving the ambulance to hospital," the Green Party wrote in the 2008 report.

The St John annual report for 2010/11 showed 37,000 of 336,000 emergency calls were attended by paramedics working alone, or about one in 10 calls. When urban calls are discounted, that figure rises to about one in four. Nevertheless, the 2010/11 total is down on the 50,000 solo callouts of the 275,000 emergencies from five years ago.

Michael Brooke, St John national operations manager, said single-crewed ambulances were a "key concern" in rural areas.

"There was a school of thought that we should put pressure [on the Government] to have full crewing everywhere," he said, but added that that was unaffordable due to New Zealand's low-density population.

The female paramedic declined to comment but her account was included in documents obtained by the Herald.

The teenage boys forced their way into the front cab of the ambulance in the early hours of a Saturday in May before yelling, punching and kicking the dashboard.

The senior paramedic said she would take the boys wherever they wanted.

She managed to turn on the handheld radio and alert her colleagues, while slowing the ambulance in the hope of jumping out and escaping.

Instead, one of the boys opened the passenger door and she pushed the more aggressive teenager out of the ambulance and drove away.

The Warkworth police station was closed, so officers from Orewa - 27km of winding road away - were forced to respond.

She drove to the empty Warkworth station to wait and left the hallucinating youth inside the ambulance until backup arrived.

Hiding at the back of the station, she was alerted by radio that a third member of the group, talking aggressively to the 111 call-taker, was walking towards her.

The police arrived and both young men were arrested.

Soon after, the police found teenagers' friend, who was having a seizure from a suspected overdose on magic mushrooms.

With no other help around, the female paramedic was then forced to take him to North Shore Hospital despite the ordeal.

The patient thrashed around and was handcuffed to the stretcher, before biting the police officer escorting the paramedic for protection.

The teenager who was pushed out of the ambulance was later arrested and police planned to charge him with threatening to kill. But he was instead placed in drug rehabilitation under strict conditions after a family group conference organised by CYFS in July.

- NZ Herald

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