SAFD Chief Reacts to This Week's Ambulance Theft

posted by Jim Forsyth - 

The San Antonio Fire Department is looking into the possibility of buying anti-theft devices for its fleet of ambulances, after a patient jumped the ambulance that was sent to treat him and stole it on Tuesday, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Police chased the ambulance across the city, until it was involved in several accidents at the I-10/Loop 410 interchange, damaging several cars, including a police car, and forcing the busy intersection to be closed for several hours during afternoon rush hour.

Chief Charles Hood says paramedics have a lot of duties when they arrive at a call, and can't also be expected to do ambulance security.

"You're trying to save somebody," said Hood, who worked as a paramedic.  "You are trying to perform multiple tasks sometimes, without security."

He says he was actually held hostage once when he arrived at what he thought was going to be a routine call, and the patient suddenly snapped and turned on the paramedics.  Hood says in Tuesday's incident, the ambulance crew thought it was a standard distress call, but the patient suddenly jumped into the ambulance, locked the doors, and drove away.

The cab of an ambulance contains no special equipment, and driving an ambulance is like driving any other type of vehicle.  He says the paramedics will not be disciplined due to the incident.

Hood says shutting off the engine of the ambulance when it arrived at the scene is not an option.

"We have electronics, we have the technology that we need, we have medications that need to be cooled, so that ambulance has to stay running," he said.

Hood says when EMS is called to the scene of a violent incident, like a shooting, the paramedics always rely on police to make sure the scene is secure before the ambulance crew rolls in, but there was no indication that there was going to be anything unusual about this particular call.

One thing Hood does not support is a proposal which was introduced in the Texas Legislature last session but did not pass, and that is allowing ambulance drivers to carry guns.

"You can't have somebody laying on the ground performing CPS with a gun in his pocket," he said.  "That is exactly the wrong thing to do."

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