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Bill would stiffen penalty for assault on first responders in Maryland

February 23, 2015
AAA Member Advisory
TO:          AAA Membership (originally published on WBALTV.com)
RE:           Bill would stiffen penalty for assault on first responders in Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A bill proposed in the General Assembly would make assault on a first responder a felony crime punishable by a 10-year prison sentence.

First responders really don't have the option of refusing a call, and sometimes, they find themselves in more danger than what generated the emergency.

The House Judiciary Committee heard horror stories Friday from those on the front lines. The public doesn't hear about these assaults, because no one has to keep track of them, which the legislation would change.

"We go into scenes where we don't always have the opportunity to retreat," said Dave Keller, president of the Maryland State Firemen's Association.

Steve Cox, legislative liaison for the Maryland State Firemen's Association, has been assaulted numerous times. He has even had a gun pointed at his head.

"You don't know what it feels like when you are called to an uncertain situation. The police say the situation is safe, you go in, you are treating a patient only to have someone walk in with a 30-30 rifle, put at your head and (they) say, 'Get out,'" Cox said.

Records of assaults on first responders are virtually nonexistent. There's no category for it and the incidents are usually not reported to police.

Studies from 2003 and 2009 found that EMS fatality rates are seven times higher than for other health-care workers.

"If an EMT has been at work for 10 years, there is a 61 percent chance they were assaulted and a 25 percent chance they suffered an injury and sought medical care for it," Dr. Tyler Cymet, president of MedChi, the Maryland state medical society.

Delegate Dr. Jay Jalisi, D- Baltimore County, the bill's sponsor, said he believes the stiff penalty his bill carries will serve as a deterrent, and he wants first responders to know the public has their back.

"It is for those people especially who do not have a choice and cannot walk away, even in bad situations," Jalisi said.

The legislation has broad bipartisan support.

"These first responders are frequently in danger, not only from the situation, but occasionally from distraught people who are on the scene," said Sen. Karen Montgomery, D-Montgomery County.

"It's clear in those situations that the first responders are doing what they are supposed to do and that's take care of people, and for payment, sometimes, they are abused," said Delegate Brett Wilson, R-Washington County.

The bill has the support of the Maryland State Firemen's Association, the Department of Transportation and the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

Thirty-three states have enacted similar laws.

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