Studies of the use of body armor by paramedics outline the risks. Donald Walsh, assistant chief of paramedics for the Chicago Fire Department, found in a mid-1990s study that the typical urban emergency medical services worker would be assaulted 9.6 times in a 12-year career. Among paramedic agencies in the country's 25 most populated cities, 24 percent reported gunfire directed at paramedics and 92 percent reported assaults.And the risk of getting shot isn't the only reason paramedics are wearing the armor:
In a recent article Walsh wrote for a Web site, he noted two incidents where emergency medical workers have been hit by gunfire and or died of gunshot wounds on the job this year. A paramedic in Kansas City, Mo., was shot, though not fatally, by a waiting gunman when she responded to a house explosion. In Lexington, Ky., an emergency medical technician for a fire company died after being shot when responding to a domestic dispute involving a man eventually ruled to be too mentally ill to stand trial.
Rural paramedics face similar problems. Of the 284 emergency medical workers Walsh's team surveyed from the Midwest, 40 percent reported assaults during a 10-year career. Seven reported being shot at while trying to do their jobs.
Paramedic Arthur Trout was riding in the back of an ambulance when a driver ran a red light and hit the emergency vehicle broadside. Trout was thrown off his feet and into a cabinet, severely bruising his back.
It would have been worse, Trout said, if he had not been wearing his bullet-resistant vest.
Eight years after the accident, Trout, an Emergency Medical Services worker for New Castle County, continues to wear the vest.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is testing new styles of harnesses that would secure emergency medical workers in the back of ambulances while giving them the freedom to move enough to treat patients, safety engineer Paul Moore said. The lap belts in most ambulances don't provide that flexibility. The study, expected to be done by spring 2005, will include data on the crash risks paramedics face.