Emergency Vehicle Chaos In South Africa
Despite more attention on the issue, emergency responders are facing a continued crisis of attacks on staff. We explore recent events…
Published: Friday, April 28th 2017
While a certain amount of stress is expected for emergency responders, paramedics, and police officers, these public servants are now facing dangerous and violent challenges when responding to calls.
Attacks on emergency responders have made headlines over the past few years, yet the issue persists and has now reached a point where service delivery is under threat.
Just last week, it was reported that 22 Emergency Medical Service (EMS) responders were on sick leave. This as a result of trauma from attacks while on duty.
In March, several ambulance workers were also attacked while transporting a patient - despite having a police escort.
Responders also face dangers and challenges when it comes to getting to the scene of an emergency, due to issues with other motorists.
CompareGuru takes a look at the challenges currently facing these essential service workers.
While emergency responders have faced these challenges around the country, the Western Cape has particularly been in the spotlight due to attacks.
In fact, EMS operations manager, Phumzile Papu, said at a stakeholder meeting in April that the Western Cape is losing ambulance drivers to other provinces as a result.
Just in 2016, 5 148 days' worth of work hours were lost. This due to responders being absent on account of safety concerns.
Furthermore, the Cape Argus reported that 214 ambulances had been taken off the roads last year.
Things don't look like they're set to improve either. Around ten areas in the City of Cape Town have been designated "red zones". This means that ambulances cannot enter them, during certain hours, without a police escort.
These areas include Mitchells Plain, Langa, Hanover Park, and other townships.
There were plans to implement safety kiosks with private security to help ambulances secure escorts. According to the Cape Argus, however, Western Cape Community Safety MEC, Dan Plato, has said that there is not enough funding to follow through with this.
Police Are Just As Afraid
Unfortunately, relying solely on strained police services will not alleviate the problem.
Police vehicles are themselves also facing issues entering these red zones. With many police officers requiring back up before driving to these areas.
Damien Allen, a local paramedic, told Carte Blanche during a recent interview that police are afraid to enter these zones.
"I'm here with an ambulance, all that I have is medical equipment. These people [police officers] are armed and these people are afraid to the areas - so what does that tell you?" he said in the interview
Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) be deployed to areas plagued by gangsterism.
Resulting Delays Often Fatal
The delays resulting from requiring a police escort can result in the deaths of patients.
The ripple effect of these delays, and limited supply of ambulances in the city, mean that the service delivery issues extend past the red zones.
The attacks have also expanded to other emergency responders, not just ambulances.
Over the Easter weekend, two firefighters were attacked by residents, according to the Cape Town municipality.
Earlier in April, a firefighter was hit by a stone when a crowd was stoning a fire truck.
"Attacks on firefighters are becoming far too commonplace. If people aren’t stoning the fire trucks, they threaten or harass the firefighters trying to get to the frontline, or even cut their hoses. It’s unbelievable that the very people the firefighters are trying to protect are causing delays, effectively resulting in a much higher cost, both to the affected community and the City," the City's Alderman JP Smith said in a statement.
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Other Problems Faced
The continuing attacks on emergency personnel compound an already dangerous and complex situation.
Limited resources mean that funds for EMS and other emergency services are already stretched thin. As more staff require sick leave, due to traumatic experiences, overtime costs for other emergency workers increase.
Emergency responders also face danger when getting to the site of an incident, with a surprising number of uncooperative drivers who refuse to give way.
Reckless drivers at intersections also result in accidents.
According to Arrive Alive, most crashes involving EMS vehicles occur at a traffic lights, which are considered high-incident areas.
How Can You Help?
There is not much that the ordinary citizen can do to help alleviate the dangerous attacks facing emergency responders.
However, when it comes to helping reduce accidents for response vehicles, residents can be more cooperative when giving way.
This includes giving emergency vehicles the benefit of the doubt and not obstructing their way. Chances are that there is an actual emergency and sirens are not turned on just to get out of traffic.
If you are unsure of the steps you should take when an emergency vehicle approaches, here is a guide from CompareGuru.
Some community members in red zones have pledged to protect emergency responders by working with neighbourhood watch groups.
To see true change though, the high crime and violence of these areas will need to be addressed on a governmental level.
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