Morne Roussow unashamedly says he carries a gun when he responds to medical emergencies.
His training school Tactical Medicine’s (TacMed) motto is “we bring you back alive” and the paramedic has spent the past nine years teaching SA emergency workers to defend themselves in any hostile situations that may crop up.
“We are sitting with young, inexperienced emergency personnel out there,” he says.
“Are they streetwise? Are they able to survive … it’s not fun and games any more … It is necessary for medics to know how to kill somebody, it is necessary to know how to defend themselves,” he says.
Roussow says he has never used his weapon on a scene and would never encourage a medic to show their weapon except in a life-or-death situation, but with SA’s crime levels, medics’ safety is important.
“We aren’t training people to be killers ... it’s not going out guns blazing,” he says of what they teach at the ER24-affiliated TacMed.
Regardless, Roussow’s methods and a general trend towards medics protecting themselves with weapons is a controversial one.
“We feel unsafe knowing other medics are carrying guns,” said one medic. “The public associates us with law enforcement.”
Former EMS medic Rodney Eksteen said: “In my experience, when you cross that line (of carrying a weapon) you are opening yourself up to a great deal of other problems.
“Whenever I was in a situation, I distanced myself from the police … If you are in a situation that’s volatile, let police deal with it and then you go in and do your job.”
EMS spokesman Synock Matobako agreed, saying the policy of their ambulance service was to allow police to deal with violent situations before doing their job.
“We have seen traffic officers being attacked solely because they are carrying guns. If you allow medics to carry guns, you put them in a vulnerable situation,” says Matobako.
“We are depending on the community to protect us; for us to carry weapons would put us in a very vulnerable position.”
He says that to deal with any attacks, they have sent their medics on self-defence courses and ambulances have panic buttons that summon security response units.
In a situation where there has been a shooting involved, medics must wait for the police before entering a scene.
“Irrespective of whether they withdraw and the patient is going to die, we say they don’t have to be heroes,” he says.
But Roussow argues there have been unavoidably violent situations such as the xenophobic riots during which medics have needed to act quickly.
Furthermore, the TacMed course teaches more than just guns.
In addition to rifle training, participants in the eight-day course are given three days of intensive medical training on dealing with various conflict-related injuries, including blast and bullet wounds, and organ and tissue damage.
They are lectured on how to preserve evidence at a crime scene and how to negotiate volatile situations and hostage-taking situations.
According to Roussow, a big part of surviving is planning and tactical thinking. Planning can be as simple as standing next to a door instead of directly in front of it when you knock. This is to prevent your being shot through the door, or preplanning what type of injuries can and cannot be dealt with in a hostile situation.
Recently, Joburg High Court Judge Sharise Weiner found Richard Tshifhiwa Luruli and Michael Khorombi guilty on eight counts of rape, two counts of compelled sexual assault, two counts of compelling another person to commit a sexual offence, one for robbery and a charge of unlawfully possessing a firearm. The charges relate to the rape of two paramedics who were assaulted while treating a burned baby in 2010.