‘Enough Is Enough’: EMTs Sound the Alarm After Ambulance Stabbing

A patient allegedly stabbed an EMT in the back of a Boston ambulance last month, and its driver is discussing his experience publicly to draw attention to the risks that emergency medical workers face

Bob Lord remembers it was like being in a dream.

Lord and his partner were transporting a woman to Massachusetts General Hospital to undergo a psychiatric examination. As soon as he came out of the tunnel heading downtown, Lord heard violent cries in the back of his ambulance.

"I started hearing my partner screaming," he said, "and then I heard her say that, 'She stabbed me.' So instantly, everything just kind of kicked into overdrive."

Lord, a longtime emergency medical technician, told the NBC10 Boston Investigators he was suddenly plunged into a scene of chaos. Police say the patient he was transporting that Wednesday afternoon stabbed Lord's partner repeatedly, leaving her seriously injured.

As he raced to help, Lord felt like he couldn't move fast enough.

"Everything was kind of like coming at me all at once," he said, "and I just remember seeing her on the sidewalk with obviously a visible stab wound to her leg ... I'm just doing what I can to secure a tourniquet, doing what I can to control the bleeding from her leg."

Lord was also attacked with pepper spray during the violent July 10 episode.

EMTs say the attack and other incidents underscore the dangers that emergency medical workers face on the job — from routine injuries lifting patients to vehicle crashes and assaults.

In Boston, emergency workers say they're spit on, bitten and hit every day, and now they're saying enough is enough.

"It can get hairy real quick," medic Mike MacNeil said of working in an ambulance. "It can turn into a steel cage match between you and one other person."

MacNeil, president of the EMS Division of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, the union that represents emergency workers in the city, said when he learned of last month's stabbing, he was upset, but not surprised. EMTs and paramedics have long worried about the possibility of a life-threatening attack, he said.

Boston tracks assaults on EMTs, and the city has logged at least 31 so far this year. But the numbers don't tell the full story, since many assaults go unreported, MacNeil said.

"It's considered to be part of the job," he said. "That's the worst part about this. Everyone expects it to happen."

Lord agreed to discuss his experience publicly for the first time with the NBC10 Boston Investigators to draw attention to the risks that emergency medical workers face.

On that afternoon, Lord and his partner were called to a firehouse in East Boston to evaluate a 31-year-old woman who appeared to be delusional, he said. They found her sitting on a bench inside. She was speaking calmly, but clearly needed to undergo a mental health evaluation, Lord said.

"As my partner was interviewing her, it kind of became pretty obvious ... we're just going to have to take her to the hospital, just based on the statements she was saying," he recalled.

Lord and his partner put the woman on a stretcher, secured the safety belts and loaded her into the ambulance. Soon after, he heard a commotion in the back of the vehicle.

"From then on ... I remember it being just very chaotic," he said. "Very noisy. And the whole time, I was thinking I've got to do everything I can to find out what's going on with my partner."

The patient, Julie Tejeda, was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder. At an arraignment last month, Tejeda's lawyer said she has a history of mental health issues, and had stopped taking her medication about three months earlier. She was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, and is due to appear in court again Friday.

When he learned about the circumstances, fellow EMT Terry Mentele was angry. A 23-year veteran of the job, Mentele endured a harrowing attack two years earlier while responding to a medical call.

The patient, a 31-year-old man, attacked Mentele's partner with a kitchen knife during a confrontation inside the narrow foyer of a South End home. Mentele said he pulled the patient off his partner, but the man landed on him. He suffered a fractured spine and kidney injury in the scuffle that ensued.

Police ultimately shot and killed the patient after he ignored the officers' commands and continued to stab and slash at them, according to a review conducted by the Suffolk County District Attorney.

Facing the daily threat of violence, many EMTs in the city now wear bulletproof vests and participate in self-defense classes. Police officers also respond to medical calls to ensure their safety.

In the wake of last month's stabbing, Boston EMS Chief James Hooley and leaders at the Boston Police Department are working together to tighten policy on when and how police respond to protect emergency medical workers.

"We have talked with police about firming up those policies so we feel safe, and if we need an officer to ride in the back, or two officers follow along," Hooley said.

MacNeil, the union president, said he also wants changes in the law. In Massachusetts, attacking police and firefighters is a felony, but assaulting an ambulance crew is a misdemeanor. The union backs pending legislation that would make it a felony to assault emergency workers.

Embracing the mantra "Enough is enough," the union is selling T-shirts with that phrase on the back to benefit the EMT who was stabbed last month. Money raised will help with her medical bills.

"Here we are again," MacNeil said. "What's it going to take? Somebody dying?"

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