By Bruce Campanile
They’re helping to save lives — while their own are being threatened.
Assaults and other threats leveled against emergency medical service workers are almost a daily occurrence — skyrocketing 137% from 2018 through last year, according to city data obtained exclusively by The Post.
The staggering numbers come as just last week Staten Island emergency medical technician Richard McMahon was blasted in the shoulder by a drunk patient in the back of an ambulance.
The number of “workplace violence” incidents involving first responders like McMahon more than doubled from 163 in 2018 to 386 last year — evidence that ambulance crews regularly face life-threatening dangers.
The number of incidents first jumped to 217 in 2019 and then surged to 329 during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Logs reviewed by The Post show EMTS and paramedics are routinely punched, kicked, bitten, spit on and threatened by patients brandishing knives and other weapons — many emotionally disturbed or high on drugs.
“Unfortunately, it’s the world we live in. It happens much more than it’s made public,” McMahon told The Post while recovering at home after surviving the terrifying ordeal last week.
Oren Barzilay, head of the Local 2507 union representing EMTS, paramedics and fire inspectors, blamed a worsening mental-health crisis on top of state lawmakers passing soft-on-crime policies, such as the no-cash bail law, for causing the increase in attacks on EMS workers.
“It’s disturbing to see these incidents of violence on the rise,” he said. “”Bail reform has certainly had an impact.”
Queens Councilwoman Joanna Ariola, who chairs the committee overseeing fire and emergency services, said tougher bail laws and beefed-up police manpower are needed to help protect ambulance crews on 911 calls.
“EMS workers have never been more at risk,” she said. “We just had an EMT who was shot.”
The city’s medics have been at the tip of the spear for both the city’s public health and crime crises. They were the first to approach and treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients during the worst of the pandemic.
Three EMS workers told The Post that they are increasingly risking their lives in order to do their jobs.
Alexander Kaplan, a 40-year-old paramedic assigned to EMS Station 44 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, is currently on the shelf with a line-of-duty knee injury after being attacked by an emotionally disturbed patient.
Kaplan had transported a patient to a Brooklyn hospital on the night of May 14. While there, another patient got up and was throwing punches at a police officer — and Kaplan and his partner went over to help the cop restrain the patient.
“The patient violently kicked the back of both of my legs. I fell down to the ground and he proceeded to kick me on my side and my back,” the 16-year EMS veteran worker said.
“Nobody knew why this guy became so violent.”
Kelley Gumbs, 45, an emergency medical technician, said he’s been attacked three times by patients in recent years.
He recalled responding to a 911 call to treat an intoxicated man, who was homeless, at the Eastern Parkway subway station in Brooklyn. Gumbs said the patient was initially “cool with us” but he got agitated after being sent to Kings County Hospital, which informed him it did not have a detox unit to treat him.
“He flipped on me. He said, ‘You’re a liar.’ I apologized to him. I helped him back into the bed in the ER and he socked me in the mouth,” Gumbs said.
“I’m tired of being attacked. I’m tired of my brothers and sisters being attacked.”
Another EMS worker, Karen, has also seen her fair share of terrifying incidents. Her unit recently responded to an emergency call for an emotionally disturbed patient in northern Manhattan.
The patient was handcuffed from behind but while being transported in the ambulance to the hospital, he banged his head against the wall. He then started shifting his hands to reach for a gun in the back of his jeans before it was discovered and taken away from him.
“I’ve been threatened. I’ve been kicked in the face by a patient. I’ve been spit at,” said Karen.
“I have a family to go home to. We just want to help people. We don’t want to get attacked.”
The EMS workers said the most anxious moments during shifts is getting a 911 cause “unknown” call — like the one McMahon got.
“It’s worrisome because you don’t know what you’re getting into. It’s our job to respond and find out what the problem is. You have to be super observant on the job,” Karen said.
The FDNY, which runs the EMS service, decried assaults against its medics.
“Any act of violence against a member of EMS is despicable. EMTs and Paramedics bravely serve New Yorkers and respond to each call with one goal — to save lives by providing outstanding emergency medical care,” Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said Sunday.
The FDNY, in a statement, said it encourages its workers to report all incidents of workplace violence – including both physical and verbal assaults – and requires officers to document the cases.
FDNY EMS also “has improved communications training and self-defense/de-escalation training for all members, including new hires, in response to these incidents.”
The department has also released public service announcements about workplace violence, emphasizing the assaulting an EMS member is a felony.