Chicago City Council committee OKs ordinance to protect paramedics 'taking a beating' from patients

Amid warnings that Chicago Fire Department paramedics are "taking a literal beating at the hands of their patients," a City Council committee on Monday answered the alarm.

The Committee on Public Safety unanimously approved an ordinance championed by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) at the behest of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

It would create a special category of crime for assaulting CFD paramedics, private ambulance workers, American Red Cross or any other emergency medical services and disaster response personnel in Chicago. If convicted, an offender would face up to 180 days in jail and fines as high as $1,000.

Chicago is in the middle of a "mental health crisis" and paramedics are "sadly, on the front lines" of that crisis, said Joe Senorski, director of political action for Local 2.

"The men and women of the Chicago Fire Department are taking a literal beating at the hands of their patients. … This isn’t just fists. It isn’t padlocks. It’s guns. We’ve had ambulances shot at. We’ve had fire apparatus shot at," Senorski said.

First responders send out a 10-1 "when you think your life’s in danger. You have a legitimate fear that you may lose your life. It’s the proverbial, ‘Send the cavalry,’" Senorski said, adding that there have been three such incidents in just the past 30 days.


A 10-1 for a police incident, Senorski noted, goes out on the radio band heard by "every police officer" in Chicago — but a 10-1 involving a paramedic or firefighter is handled very differently. A single police car responds, Senorski said.

"It’s is a very, very dangerous situation when we’re dispatching additional fire companies to the scene of a 10-1 before we dispatch one police officer," he said.

"Those firefighters and paramedics don’t have bulletproof vests and they don’t have weapons. They’re walking in there with their bunker coat and a helmet trying to help. And believe me, when our members are dispatched to one of these, they’re coming. They’re not gonna leave their brothers and sisters behind. But we need additional resources."

O’Shea represents a Far Southwest Side ward where scores of police officers and firefighters live.

With 1,700 police vacancies in the Chicago Police Department, O’Shea said paramedics increasingly find themselves "on the scene without any backup" during overnight hours.

"I’m talking about gang conflict. I’m talking about shooting incidents. I’m talking about people in mental health crisis.  Something has to be done to protect our medics," O’Shea said.

"Oftentimes, they’re there before the police. Oftentimes, they’re there without the police. If we don’t do something, my concern is we’re gonna see situations where the fire Department is afraid to go into an area or go into a scene to render aid."

Far Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) has served the city as both a firefighter and a paramedic. He knows the difference between a 10-1 for a police officer and a 10-1 for a paramedic or firefighter.

"These paramedics are on their own out there, and I’ve got to gotta tell you, I’ve gotten my butt kicked on both sides. And it is a very, very, very scary situation when you think you’re not going back to your home, you’re not gonna see your family again and you’re not gonna see your firefighter brothers and sisters again — all while you’re just trying to save a life," Napolitano said.

"This is a no-brainer."

If anything, the fines should be higher and the jail time should be mandatory and longer, said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).

"It’s a sad commentary in this city when people feel it is their right to attack those trying to save their friends, neighbors or family members’ lives. It is thoroughly disgusting that we don’t call this out more often," Lopez said.

"Even departments as innocuous as Animal Care and Control have had to resort to wearing bulletproof vests."