All respondents to a survey of those with Frontenac Paramedics said they have been verbally abused while on the job, according to data released by Frontenac County on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.
But the verbal abuse may be the least alarming finding of the survey. According to a press release issued by the County on behalf of Frontenac Paramedics, of the paramedics surveyed, “virtually every one of them” has experienced violence or abuse of one form or another while they were serving on the job.
Paramedics reported being slapped, punched, kicked, bitten, spat at, threatened, groped, verbally harassed, and screamed at by both patients they were tending to, and by those on scene when paramedics arrived to render assistance, according to Frontenac Paramedics and the survey findings.
In response to Kingstonist inquiries, the County of Frontenac explained that the survey took place in late 2022 and surveyed a total of 60 active members of the Frontenac Paramedics.
According to the data released, of those paramedics surveyed:
- 65 per cent said they have been physically assaulted
- 18 per cent said they have been sexually assaulted
- 45 per cent said they have been sexually harassed
- 75 per cent said they have been exposed to physical intimidation
- 100 per cent said they have been verbally abused
“Almost everyone treats paramedics well and even expresses gratitude for our work, but most people don’t realise how often we deal with threats and violence from patients and bystanders,” Frontenac Paramedic Jeff Dawson said in a statement.
“I count a new incident of violence against my colleagues roughly every three or four days.”
Dawson is the coordinator of the Frontenac Paramedics’ anti-violence working group. According to Frontenac County, he coaches paramedics in de-escalation and conflict resolution techniques. When violence occurs, Dawson encourages his fellow paramedics to debrief and engage in peer support, as well as to make use of mental health resources available to them.
Frontenac Paramedics disclosed that the survey also found that many violent incidents go unreported to authorities, “because paramedics have come to accept the occasional violent or threatening incident is part of the job.” As such, Dawson encourages all paramedics to report any and all acts of violence against them, noting that detailed reports are crucial in allowing the problem to be more accurately measured. The information is imperative to creating longer-term solutions to the issue, which can then be tested and implemented, and to ensuring those who commit violence against paramedics are legally held accountable when appropriate.
“Sometimes patients become irrational or violent because of a medical condition. Someone who, for example, is hypoglycaemic, recovering from a seizure, or suffering from mental health issues or dementia may not be able to control their behaviour. Paramedics are trained and equipped to navigate some of that and we’re doing more to ensure we’re even better prepared and protected,” Dawson explained.
“Still, too often paramedics are attacked or threatened by those who know better. Large, rowdy, crowd events where thousands of celebrants indulge in recreational substances seem to be especially dangerous.”
Frontenac Paramedics said, “with large crowd events expected in Kingston this weekend” – ostensibly in connection with Queen’s University’s Homecoming events from Friday, Oct. 20 to Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023 – and with “incidents of violence against paramedics seemingly on the rise everywhere, now seems the right time to raise this issue publicly.”
“Violence against paramedics is a persistent and complex problem in our community. Paramedics across the country are doing amazing work on this and every member of the public can help: If you see anyone threatening or harassing paramedics on the job this weekend or ever, please call 911 immediately and alert police,” Frontenac Paramedics Chief Gale Chevalier relayed in a statement.
“If you’re partying this weekend, please know and pass [on] the word: Paramedics and all emergency services personnel are to be treated with personal and professional respect at all times. Anyone who attacks, threatens, or otherwise interferes with paramedics, their equipment, or their work will be referred to police for charges under the Criminal Code.”