THUNDER BAY - It’s a paramedic’s job to go out every day and assist people in need of help, but in recent years, the job of helping others has become much more dangerous.
Paramedics in the city of Thunder Bay are experiencing increasing levels of violence on the job, and union officials are hoping to work with management and the city to keep better track of violent incidents and institute stronger safety measures.
“There is an absolute increase,” said Rob Moquin, a primary care paramedic with the city of Thunder Bay and unit chair for Unifor Local 229. “We are noticing almost daily some paramedic has a story about some degree of an assault they have been subject to. Sadly, the numbers are steadily increasing.”
There are a number of dangers paramedics may face on the job, from exceeding the speed limit on city roads to drive to a call safely, to threats of assault, being spit on, dealing with patients with communicable diseases, and actual physical assaults.
Assaults or violence on the job has not been formally tracked in the past, but Moquin said steps are being taken to track these incidents so it can be formally addressed with Superior North EMS management and the city of Thunder Bay.
“We are hoping to bring light to the fact that us grumbling on the road about being assaulted is a real concern, it’s no longer just us talking so to speak,” he said. “We hope to have some real numbers soon enough and we can present that to our management and the city to say maybe we have to have a different look at some of the safety equipment we use daily.”
According to Moquin, aggressive behaviour has become a growing issue for paramedics who attend calls. At times, paramedics may be called to an assault in progress or domestic dispute, and the violence can then be directed at them.
“We do call for the police to come as quickly as they can, and they do, but there are times we don’t know what we are walking into,” Moquin added.
However, one of the biggest issues in recent years is paramedics encountering more edged weapons.
“We are seeing a lot of knives on the street,” Moquin said. “It’s no secret that there are a lot of stabbings here in Thunder Bay. And we walk into a lot of situations where knives are in everyone’s home and people are carrying knives on the street now.”
Because of this increased risk, Moquin said the union is looking to speak with management about providing stab proof or bullet proof vests to protect paramedics on the street.
“It’s not just a weight that is on paramedics,” Moquin continued. “It’s the families and spouses and we leave at home when we come to work that know we are walking into some potentially very dangerous situations. It’s a changed career. I’m sure if you spoke with paramedics that had done this job 10 or 15 years ago would tell you that threats we are facing now in terms of violence are not threats they faced back then.”
The potential for violence and dangers on the job has not impacted recruitment though, and Moquin said despite the dangers, being a paramedic is still a very rewarding career.
“On the same day you can be threatened, but eight hours later you can deliver a baby,” he said. “It’s not all doom and gloom.”
But those who help other people need the assurance that they will remain safe as well, which has become a very real concern for paramedics across the city.
“We can’t help people if we are injured ourselves,” Moquin said.