A PARAMEDIC worker who has been attacked three times in five years, survived his latest attack this week because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Attacks on paramedics in the Western Cape have tripled in the past year.
A bulletproof vest saved Victor Labuschagne’s life when he was shot in Beacon Valley, Mitchells Plain, while responding to a call. Labuschagne was stabbed five years ago in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain, and had a gun pointed at him eight months ago in Beacon Valley while on duty.
The Labuschagne incident is among the growing attacks on paramedics who are preparing for the festive season.
Statistics show attacks on Cape Town paramedics have more than tripled this year compared to 2019.
The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) confirmed that to date there have been 68 attacks on paramedics and that last year there were 22 recorded incidents.
On Tuesday, Labuschagne responded to a call in Beacon Valley. The perpetrator shot at him but he survived because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Eight months ago, Labuschagne was held at gunpoint in the same neighbourhood and five years ago he was stabbed in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain.
He said: “At that time, I was stabbed in the back by someone who was high on drugs and still today we don’t know why he attacked me ... he stabbed me in the back, but I was wearing my bulletproof vest.”
With 25 years of experience as a paramedic, Labuschagne said when he started his career things were very different.
He said: “It’s so sad because when I started, we were wearing white T-shirts and we didn’t care or worry that we could be attacked or that anything like this could happen to you ... but things have now gotten so bad that I have to go to work wearing a bulletproof vest, and it’s really sad.”
The bulletproof vest has saved his life twice but Labuschagne admitted that after being attacked three times, he has now started questioning whether he can continue as a paramedic.
Wonder Kheswa has been a paramedic for 12 years and he said it’s not easy being on the road when the threat of attacks are a daily reality.
In June last year, Kheswa was attacked while responding to an emergency call in Khayelitsha. He said: “We were given a house address and when we arrived and got out of the ambulance, a group of guys came towards us pointing guns.”
In this incident, Khewsa and his partner escaped unharmed, but the tablet used as a screen in the ambulance was stolen.
He said: “When you respond in some areas, it’s hard to maybe drive right to the house where you need to be, so we go to maybe a church, a creche or a school nearby, park there and try to get to where we need to be.”
Using landmarks, especially in the densely-populated landscape of Cape Town townships is often the best way for EMS to get to patients who need help. Paramedics are also escorted into identified high-risk areas (red zones) by police and Metro law enforcement.
EMS spokesperson Deanna Bessick said: “SAPS escort officials into Red Zone areas. With the Red Zone protocols in effect, all relative stakeholders (SAPS, DoCS, EMS, Neighborhood Watch) continue to work together to ensure the safety of our staff and that of the community in the identified areas.”
Mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, said escorting ambulances and other emergency vehicles such as fire engines, took up time and resources which could be spent more productively.
“The number of escorts has tripled over the last few years and these include traffic officials, law enforcement and metro police who do these escorts,” Smith said.
Smith said that this also cuts down on response times.
“An ambulance or fire and rescue could respond to an incident in possibly five minutes, but because of the threat to their safety they wait for law enforcement to escort them and arrive 20-30 minutes later.”
He added that integrated alarm systems and panic buttons have been installed in ambulances and response vehicles but it’s not an ideal solution because if a paramedic or essential service staff member is attacked one can’t be there to assist immediately.
Smith said people need to understand that an attack on a response vehicle or ambulance is not an attack on a branch of government but a criminal act that is hindering life-saving treatment in certain parts of Cape Town.