DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Paramedics gathered in front of St. Francis West Hospital for a news conference yesterday as a show of support for the two paramedics who were assaulted as they were attending to a patient.
on the job
A recent attack highlights
emergency workers' desire
for legal protection
An unprovoked attack on two city paramedics this week has prompted Emergency Medical Service officials to ask for tougher laws to protect their workers.
The assault occurred in Moiliili about 9 p.m. Wednesday after the two paramedics had placed a patient in their ambulance. EMS officials said the suspect, a 32-year-old man who was not related to the patient, knocked on the ambulance door and asked to be transported to a hospital.
"The paramedics came out and let them know that they already had a patient on board, and the person who wanted the ambulance kind of went off and took a swing at one of the paramedics," said EMS Chief Patty Dukes. "The paramedics tried to protect themselves and keep away from the patient, and they ended up falling on the ground."
Dukes said everybody ended up going to the Queen's Medical Center for treatment, including the two paramedics, the suspect and the patient. The paramedics were released in good condition, while the suspect underwent a psychological evaluation.
Though no one was seriously injured, Dukes said the incident was a good example of why state law should be changed so that it would be a felony if anyone assaults the city's emergency workers, paramedics, lifeguards and firefighters. Such a law would be similar to the one that makes it a Class C felony for an assault on a law enforcement officer, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
In this case the suspect was arrested for third-degree assault, a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in prison.
"What we'd like to see is all public safety agency employees ... be covered under a law to make it a felony to be assaulted," Dukes said. "These are good people. We don't need them to be spooked by what happened and be afraid to come back."
Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa said legislators passed a resolution setting up a task force to study what kinds of professions should be protected by increased penalties.
But Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said lawmakers had similar requests from various groups seeking added protection for referees and police animals.
The Honolulu Fire Department backs EMS in pushing for stiffer penalties for assaults on emergency workers. Department officials said that, although not often, it does happen.
"A couple of years ago, a firefighter had to actually take away a gun from somebody," said HFD spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada. "Sometimes the public feels agitated because we're the first ones on the scene ... so we think this is a good idea. Anything to keep our personnel safer."
Seventeen-year veteran EMS paramedic David Masaki said he is usually threatened physically and/or verbally about two or three times a year but does not report it unless "they push me or threaten to kill me."
Masaki said his most recent on-the-job confrontation was on June 5, when a 31-year-old man was killed after being thrown from an all-terrain vehicle in Mokuleia.
"His friends were pretty drunk and hostile and swearing at us saying, 'You f---- betta do something and save his life!'" Masaki said. "They were pounding on the (ambulance) doors. ... One guy jumped in the driver's seat and said he was going to drive to the hospital himself."