File photo: INLSA
Cape Town - The lives of those living in the most dangerous areas are at risk because it takes an average of two hours for paramedics to reach a patient in an emergency situation in a “red zone” community.

This is because paramedics are under attack from robbers, some armed with weapons, and have to wait for a police escort for on average an hour. Only then can they respond to calls for assistance.

The red-zone areas are where ambulance crews are often attacked.

This is according to Western Cape Emergency Medical Services (EMS) manager Pumzile Papu.

There have been 32 attacks on paramedics this year. And some 26 staff members have had to take stress leave as a result of these attacks, Papu said.

“We must make sure our staff members are safe before we go into these areas, because we are soft targets for people who want money to buy drugs by robbing us of our cellphones,” he said.

In the latest incident, last week, paramedics were unable to reach a patient in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain, and had to leave the area when they and their police escort were stoned and shot at.

Papu said the public had been advised that it now takes longer for crews to assist, but that they should be patient.

“There are delays, but we make sure that we deliver services. However, the safety of our staff comes first,” said Papu.

Red zones have increased from 11 to 15. The 11 zones are: Browns Farm in Philippi, Tafelsig, Hyden Park, Nyanga, Gugulethu, New Crossroads, Manenberg, Hanover Park, Kalksteenfontein, Site C in Khayelitsha and J-Section in Lingelethu West.

Added to the list now are Beacon Valley, Rocklands, Heideveld and Chicago in Paarl.

“These are new communities that are plagued by gangsterism. It is difficult for police too, because they have their own duties to attend to,” Papu said.

Papu said absenteeism among paramedics was on the increase in recent months as many worked in fear.

He said on Tuesday an EMS management meeting with neighbourhood watches in Nyanga and Gugulethu resolved that safety forum committees would first go to a patient’s home to see if the emergency call was a hoax before paramedics could request a police escort.

“This practice would also affect our response times,” he said, adding that most of the attacks occurred when paramedics arrived at scenes and not on the way there.

“Once we start working with the neighbourhood watches then people will stop attacking us, because they will be identifiable,” Papu said.

If this pilot initiative is successful, it will be rolled out to the rest of the red zone areas, he said.

“One attack is too many. We are under siege in places where we are needed the most and the patients suffer as a result of these attacks.”

Police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana said police would do everything in their power to respond immediately to emergency calls in order to protect citizens.

Rwexana said: “Several attacks on police have occurred, but it will not prevent the police from providing responsive and effective policing.”

Papinki Lebelo, who has worked as a paramedic for 18 years, said in some cases he would wait for up to three hours for a police escort.

A community policing forum executive member in Browns Farm, Nomawethu Sibengu, said neighbourhood watches needed to assist or even escort ambulances at night.

She said while ambulances have to go to a police station commander to request an escort, safety committees should in that time check if the emergency call was a hoax.

“It is a shame that police resources should be diverted from their first priority, which is to solve crime and escort ambulances.”

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Cape Times