DURBAN - THE safety of ambulance workers has been brought into the spotlight again after a 40-year-old paramedic was killed and her colleague critically injured while they were responding to an emergency, in the early hours of yesterday morning in Estcourt, northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Phumzile Dlamini and her crewmate, whose name has been withheld, were on their way to fetch a patient who needed to be taken to hospital when they were attacked.
Captain Nqobile Gwala, KZN police spokesperson, said that on Sunday night, two brothers were at their home at Mimosadale in Estcourt when shots were fired inside the house by unknown suspects.
While the paramedics were leaving the area where the shooting had taken place, they came under fire.
Gwala said Dlamini sustained gunshot wounds and was declared dead at the scene.
She said the driver, Dlamini’s crewmate, was shot three times and was rushed to hospital, where he remains in a critical condition.
The KZN Health Department described the incident as “outrageous, barbaric and cowardly”.
It said that at the time of the incident, the pair had already picked up a patient who had sustained a fractured leg, when they had to detour to the home of a wounded man. After securing him, they suddenly heard gunshots coming from outside.
“None of the gunshots reached the two patients in the bullet-riddled ambulance. Cartridges of high-calibre bullets which were found at the scene deepen the mystery of why innocent paramedics found themselves at the receiving end of such untold brutality,” said the Health Department in a statement.
Dlamini, a mother of three, was an Intermediate Life Support paramedic with 10 years’ service and was originally from Greytown. She has a 21-year-old daughter who is at university, and two sons, aged 19 and 12.
Her husband is also a health department employee and has been working for the department for 10 years.
KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane called on law-enforcement authorities to swiftly bring the perpetrators to book.
“An incident like this is spine-chilling. It’s a strong signal that something has gone horribly wrong in our society when innocent first responders, whose core responsibility is to save lives by helping those in emergency situations, get attacked and murdered like this. It’s outrageous,” said Simelane.
Simelane said this was not the first time that paramedics were attacked in this fashion.
She said incidents where paramedics were called out to emergency scenes, only to be robbed and stabbed, or subjected to other forms of violence and hostility, were becoming commonplace.
“This really has to stop. That is why we are calling on our communities to isolate and expose these heartless thugs.
“We don’t want a situation where our paramedics refuse to work at night, because then people whose lives can be saved will start dying. So it’s in the interest of all of us that justice is served, and that paramedics are protected at all times,” said Simelane.
KZN private ambulance association general secretary Mario Booysen condemned the incident and said that the killings of paramedics in the province while they were on duty was deeply concerning.
“Paramedics are there to save people’s lives, and it’s very unfortunate when the very same public they are trying to assist, shoot at them. This does nothing but instil fear among paramedics when it comes to responding to calls, especially at night,” he said.