St John ambulance staff are coming under an increasing barrage of abuse as they attend call-outs, with staff coming under verbal attack at least once a week and fearful for their safety.
While such instances used to be rare, St John district operations manager Jeremy Gooders, who has been in the service 20 years, said they were becoming more common and staff are now concerned these verbal attacks may escalate to physical violence.
 "It can be quite unnerving for our staff to try and concentrate on a critically important job," he said.
"They find it quite disheartening and demoralising [being abused] when they're basically trying to help people."

He said the atmosphere at call-outs now was a far cry from a few years ago.
"Our staff were generally treated with respect and our attendance [at an emergency call] was well received," he said.
"It's my opinion over the last two or three years there's been a steady increase [in abuse]."

The majority of abusive incidents involved alcohol and often occurred during large social gatherings at private homes.
Mr Gooders said people became abusive for a range of reasons but, at times, accused staff of not doing enough, or the right things for a patient.
The Strand in central Tauranga was not specifically a problem for St John staff because police were usually on the scene prior to the arrival of an ambulance. He said it was often difficult to tell if someone at an emergency scene had taken drugs or not but under the influence of a substance like methamphetamine they could go from reasonable to  aggressive in a short space of time.
Regional operations manager Brent Nielsen said St John had a zero tolerance policy around verbal and physical assaults on staff.
"We take this issue very seriously and encourage our staff and volunteers to report assaults to the police and we support them in doing so.
"Not only is this type of behaviour unacceptable, it can escalate to physical abuse and jeopardise the safety of the patient."
 
St John supports ambulance crews leaving a scene if they feel threatened.

Mr Gooders said staff attended a 'Stay Safe' course  on the correct way to deal with abusive patients or bystanders and  the effects of drugs like methampheta-
mine. Staff also debriefed  following an abusive job and Mr Gooders said he believed the situation had not resulted in anyone leaving St John in the Western Bay.
In emergency situations where violence is suspected or reported, ambulance staff are not cleared to enter the scene until police declare it safe.
Mr Gooders said this was a necessary but frustrating situation for ambulance staff, who aimed to reach and treat patients in the shortest possible time.