Some Grand Rapids EMTs wear bulletproof vests

Marv Rapp shows his bulletproof vest. (Dec. 1, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Paramedics will tell you that the job is changing for them.

Stories of first responders being attacked while doing their jobs have made headlines of late. Most recently, two EMTs were attacked in Detroit by a man wielding a box cutter. That man was in court Monday and is now headed to trial on counts of attempted murder, among other charges.

Situations like the Detroit case have prompted some at LIFE EMS employees based in Grand Rapids to wear bulletproof vests while working.

“My wife mandates me to wear it,” supervising paramedic Marv Raap told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday. “Obviously if they’ll shoot a police officer, they’ll have no problem shooting a paramedic.”

Raap says East Grand Rapids police donated several used vests after their officers got new ones. He says he started wearing the vest a few years ago and that some of his colleagues are doing the same.

The effort to keep paramedics away from unsafe situations starts with dispatchers who handle the calls for service, LIFE EMS administrators say. Dispatchers are trained to gauge a situation’s potential volatility on the phone and dispatch police ahead of time if they sense a potential problem.

“It’s kind of scary sending your people into a situation where you’re not really sure what’s going on,” said Robyn Terpstra, a supervisor at LIFE EMS’ control center where calls for service are dispatched. “A lot of times we ask, ‘Who’s that in the background?’ and ‘Are they yelling at you? What’s going on there?'”

Emergency dispatchers also have systems in place to alert first responders of any violent history involving a particular address or patient.

Still, responding EMTs have to be alert — even more so on routine calls where police have not been called, Rapp said.

In the Detroit attack, the paramedics were responding to care for a woman with an injured ankle when they were attacked by someone who just happened to be in the area.

“It’s not always the patient,” Raap said. “We’ve got bystanders. We’ve got family members. Maybe you’ve got family members arguing with one another.”

LIFE trains paramedics to be vigilant and to retreat from any unsafe situation until police are called. Paramedics are also equipped with an emergency button that they can press to signal dispatchers that they need police.

Raap, who said he has encountered violence and even weapons on the job, says that any time he has needed law enforcement, they have arrived in a matter of moments.

While the threat of encountering a violent person has become more of a concern, Raap says it’s far from his biggest concern. He says emergency responders are far more likely to be hurt or killed while driving to a call for service or working on the road.

Raap said he starts his days with an endgame in mind:

“My number one goal when I come to work is to go home and see my family when I get done with the end of my shift,” he said.

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