Horsham paramedic Kristy Kelly, speaking for a Horsham paramedic group and part of Wimmera ambulance response teams since 2006, said she was bound professionally to avoid commenting too openly about the court case.
But she said communities needed to be aware of what paramedics were being exposed to, sometimes daily.
“I feel compelled to speak on the view of at least the Horsham team because we all feel the same way,” she said.
“For example, during my time in the job, I’ve been hit, slapped, spat on, pushed and of course been subject to all sorts of verbal barrages.
“I’ve been called every number of names under the sun – and this has all happened, not just in a faraway metropolitan setting, but in the Wimmera,” she said.
“Unfortunately this is becoming more frequent, to a point where it is causing a lot of extra stress and pressure on top of what we deal with in our everyday lives. We can be pretty tough, but there comes a point where occupational violence shouldn’t be the normal part of the job.”
Horsham paramedics were keen to make their point in response to a Melbourne Magistrate’s Court finding involving a 22-year-old man who, while under the influence of drugs at Rainbow Serpent Festival at Lexton, attacked and seriously injured a paramedic.
The man avoided a minimum six-month jail term despite the State Government introducing new laws involving attacks on emergency workers last year.
The court instead handed the man an 18-month community corrections order and ordered him to undergo mandatory treatment.
The finding last week drew immediate and angry criticism from the Victorian Ambulance Union and calls from various sources for the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal the sentence.
Paramedics across Victoria meanwhile, have reflected their thoughts with comments chalked onto the windows of ambulances.
Mrs Kelly said the government and Ambulance Victoria had worked hard in establishing new levels of protection because there was a need for emergency-service workers to believe the system had their back.
She said paramedics responded to various circumstances with call-outs ranging from major road trauma to serious medical conditions and domestic violence.
“Of course we’re often exposed to a broad level of human behaviour. All we want to say is that it’s not okay to assault ambos and we want to get home safely to our family and loved ones like everyone else,” Mrs Kelly said.
“I do this job because I care about people. I’m 15 years in and I still love it. Sure there are the sad moments but there are also a lot of positives – we have some really good outcomes where we help people. We’re also learning all the time and working in great teams.
“But at the same time we are concerned that this wonderful profession might be considered too hazardous and an unsafe occupation for future generations. It’s serious stuff.”
Victorian Ambulance Union general secretary Danny Hill pulled few punches last week in his response to the court finding.
“Our members campaigned hard for changes to legislation to protect emergency workers. Our members have been left wondering ‘what will it take for courts to send a message that assaulting a paramedic is wrong?’ Paramedics will do anything for their patients and for the community but we are waiting for courts to have our back in the same way we have theirs,” he said.