Nebraska lawmakers last year made the policy decision to take steps to protect emergency health care providers from assault, but that work is incomplete.
State senators, citing statistics that showed the frequency of attacks, elevated assault of those caregivers to a felony. That change included emergency room doctors, nurses and certified staff, but it left out an important group.
That would be the firefighters and paramedics who render emergency medical aid to accident victims, fire and crime survivors, the ill, the erratic, the drugged and the belligerent.
Serious assaults on local firefighters and paramedics are infrequent — but not as rare as you might think, says Steve LeClair, president of the union that represents Omaha firefighters.
His group called for a change in the law after a July incident in which a gunshot grazed a paramedic during a struggle in the back of an ambulance with a suspect who was carrying a hidden weapon.
Prosecutors in that case said they couldn’t prove intent to harm, and they entered a plea deal with Justine Dubois, 24, that allowed an assault charge to drop off.
LeClair told The World-Herald that having a stronger law in place would have allowed the clear message to be sent about the limits of acceptable behavior when dealing with first responders. He’s right.
In the wake of that attack and several others not reported to police, firefighters started training in defensive, hand-to-hand tactics. That is a sad testament to the state of our world.
Dealing with attackers “is not something we’re trained for,” said LeClair. “If we wanted that line of work, we would have been police officers.”
Reasonable people can question whether selected groups deserve more protection from assaults than regular folks, but lawmakers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states have made that choice. With police officers and health care providers being given additional protection, the policy should be consistent and consistently applied. In Iowa, it is already a felony to assault a firefighter, same as it is in both states to assault a police officer or jailer.
Lawmakers should make sure the change pertains only to firefighters and paramedics rendering emergency medical aid. But to leave them out neuters the purpose of a coherent policy of protecting those who provide emergency care.
Extending the legal protection could help make someone think twice about attacking a paramedic or firefighter.