First responders get support

EMT Betty Higdon was assaulted and suffered herniated discs and a pinched spinal column. Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera

EMT Betty Higdon was assaulted and suffered herniated discs and a pinched spinal column. (Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera)

By ALFREDO ALVARADO

Anyone convicted of assaulting the brave men and women who work as Emergency Medical Technicians or Paramedics will now be facing a stiff seven-year prison sentence.

Most New Yorkers appreciate the valuable service they provide as first responders, but EMTs and Paramedics have increasingly been victims of assaults, often from the people they are trying to save. A recent study, published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that Paramedics had significantly higher odds of patient-initiated violence than Firefighters. Female EMTs reported higher odds of patient-initiated violence injuries than their male counterparts, and many of these attacks go unreported.

EMT Betty Higdon and her partner responded to an emergency call and were taking a man to the hospital when he suddenly attacked her. “He punched me in the head, grabbed me by the neck and then ripped my shirt,” recalled Higdon. The Local 2507 member suffered a pinched spinal column, two herniated discs and needed physical therapy three times a week. Yet as soon as she was able, Higdon went right back to work. “You have to get back on your horse,” she said.

EMT Teresa Soler has been threatened and assaulted on many occasions. On the morning of Nov. 12, 2012, she was brutally attacked after coming to the aid of an intoxicated man on the Brooklyn Bridge. While she was riding in the ambulance with him, the man assaulted her. “He had his knee on my stomach and his forearm on my neck,” Soler said.

Her partner stopped the ambulance and pulled him off of her, but not before he punched Soler in the face several times and choked her. Soler’s attacker, who was a Brooklyn assistant district attorney, was charged with a felony but pleaded down to a misdemeanor. He received only 10 days of community service and was mandated to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

The media coverage generated by Soler’s attack helped bring more attention to the issue. Israel Miranda, president of Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics Local 2507, worked together with Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621 President Vicent A. Variale to step up the campaign to get the legislation necessary to protect their members by closing a loophole in the law and making assault a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Miranda’s numerous trips to Albany and a barrage of telephone calls to legislators to get their support helped make the difference. Last November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation.

At a Dec. 18 press conference to celebrate the new law, Miranda said, “It’s a happy day today for me and our members because of this legislation.” New York State Sen. Martin Golden and Assembly member Joseph Lentol, sponsors of the bill, were at the press conference, along with Local 3621 Vice President Frank Borello and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

“We have almost 4,000 EMTs and Paramedics who work every day and do dangerous work on the streets of New York to keep us safe,” Commissioner Nigro said. “Protecting them from assault is absolutely necessary.”

Miranda singled out the FDNY commissioner and the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for their support in getting the law passed.

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