In Germany, the recent study, “Violence against fire service and ambulance service responders in North Rhine Westphalia” confirms that the number of attacks against emergency service personnel of the fi re and ambulance services has only fallen minimally since 2011. Further action is needed, and we discussed the issue with one of the authors of the study, Marvin Weigert.
Mr. Weigert, according to your study, for around 15 % of those affected, physical attacks occur once or twice per month. 94.3 % of ambulance service workers reported that they were affected. From your perspective, is there an explanation for this?
Ambulance workers generally work as two-person teams in each vehicle. Fire service responders, however, work in larger teams, which significantly increases the levels of inhibitions to be overcome. In addition, patients and their friends or associates are the main offender group. Mobile medical treatments (i. e., ambulance operations) bring ambulance personnel and patients into particularly close contact, which is often not the case in the response to a fire.
One approach to solve the problem that you put forward is further training to enable a more effective response to critical conflict situations. Is that enough? At the end of the day, e.g., paramedics must also take care of injured people, ill people, and accident victims. Do ambulances also need to be equipped with a “de-escalator” in future?
Targeted training of emergency responders in de-escalation techniques is at least one measure that, in the view of the respondents, would pay dividends. In particular, this would involve de-escalation with particular groups of people, such as drunk people. In that case, a specific “de-escalator” is not required. In addition, assaults need to be documented comprehensively. On the basis of this data, training can be developed to react to current trends and regional specifics in relation to potential assaults.
In England, the government has taken measures to protect emergency responders. As a result, ambulances are equipped with panic buttons and camera systems, which can be activated in emergencies to record and store evidence, which is valid in court. What is your view of these and similar measures?
Systems to enable affected response workers to send encrypted emergency calls are already in place in Germany. Camera systems could be helpful in terms of providing evidence for criminal proceedings, but our study showed that the majority of assaults aren’t even reported, so this kind of evidence is never relevant. This is particularly related to the fact that many assaults were seen by the affected parties as trivial. In the first instance, therefore, the focus should be on better documentation and more effective prevention of problems.
Marvin Weigert is a lawyer, who has worked in the research team of the Department of Criminology, Criminal Policy and Policing under Prof. Thomas Feltes at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) since 2015. Since early 2017, his work has addressed the topic of “violence against the emergency services,” as a result of which he carried out the research project entitled “Violence against fi re service and ambulance service responders in North Rhine Westphalia.”