Metro Emergency Medical Services in Cape Town has condemned the use of firearms for protection by paramedics after an informal survey found that some felt the need to carry guns.
The head of EMS, Cleeve Robertson, said that paramedics who used firearms were a dangerous invitation to criminals.
Robertson was responding to a survey carried out by the the SA Private Ambulance and Emergency Services Association. It found that some of the country’s 100 000 paramedics carried guns on duty.
“It goes against our ethics because we are there to save lives,” said Robertson.
“A firearm is no protection whatsoever. In fact, it will attract criminals because they will come for your firearm. In my view, it is definitely looking for trouble.”
Robertson said paramedics faced dangerous situations in all communities.
“The truth is you can face danger in Constantia. In every situation, there are criminals at every turn. Wherever paramedics go they are vulnerable, it is the nature of the job,” Robertson said.
He said there were no means to protect paramedics as they were “completely at the mercy of society”.
He said the spate of attacks on paramedics – about one incident each month this year – was a reflection of the lawlessness in society.
“There is no place for firearms in society, in all current research and evidence. Paramedics know that in any instance where they feel their safety is being threatened, they can withdraw from that situation,” Robertson said.
The SA Private Ambulance and Emergency Services Association’s chief executive, Oliver Wright, said while the body was aware that only a small percentage of paramedics carried firearms – about 3 percent – this should not be done at all.
He said the association did not carry out a formal survey, but paramedics who worked in dangerous areas indicated that they carried firearms.
“It is not something we support, but what we do know is the guys carrying firearms are those who have been attacked before,” Wright said.
“We respect that guys want to protect themselves, but there should be other ways to ensure their safety, such as support from the metro police or the South African Police Service.
“All the paramedics in the different services know that carrying a firearm is against policy, so most guys would be reluctant to admit that they carry a weapon, but some have indicated to us that they do.”
Wright said the main areas where there were problems with violence against paramedics were the townships in Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
“There is great danger out there every day. The main thing we need is more support from police because paramedics are there to protect people. Having support from the police is the only thing that will make the guys feel protected.”
Police spokesman November Filander said: “We cannot foresee when there will be attacks, but we suggest paramedics inform police when they are going to a dangerous area and ask for assistance.”