Attack on paramedics prompts Detroit to
address violence against EMS providers
By Robert B. Dunne, MD, FACEP
Shortly after midnight on October 20, 2015, Kelly Adams and her partner, Alfredo Rojas, responded to a call for
an ankle injury. They drove their rig to a part
of the city where many of Detroit’s homeless
population dwell and EMS calls are frequent.
Rojas performed an initial assessment on the
female patient, while the patient’s companion
hovered nearby and answered questions for her.
Rojas attempted to separate the patient from
her overbearing companion, enraging the man,
who suddenly punched him, then pulled out a
box cutter and began attacking him. With only
his bare hands to fend off the attack, Rojas
received multiple defensive wounds.
Adams quickly grabbed the steel stepstool
used to help patients climb into the ambulance
and struck the attacker repeatedly. Frightened,
the female patient moved away from the scene,
as her companion, undeterred even after being
struck by the stool, turned and attacked Adams.
“I felt the knife slice through my cheek,”
Adams recalled. Rojas began kicking the
attacker, ultimately getting him away from his
partner. As Rojas radioed for police backup, the
microphone difficult to grip with blood-cov-
ered hands, the two managed to get into the
cab of their rig.
The rest of the incident is preserved in the
recording of the harrowing radio call: At 35 seconds, Rojas requests a scout car to be dispatched
to their location; grunting and heavy breathing
can be heard in the background. At 1 minute
6 seconds, Rojas uses a distress code to notify
communications that they have an emergency
and at 1 minute 13 seconds he states that both
he and his partner are injured. Dispatch says
the police have a five-minute estimated time
of arrival, and the supervisor on duty will likely
take even longer to arrive on scene.
At 1 minute 45 seconds, Rojas states that he
and Adams are bleeding badly and are taking
themselves to the hospital. At 2 minutes 13
seconds nearby ambulances state that they’re
headed to the scene. Adams responds in a firm
but remarkably calm voice, “Don’t send anyone
over there, that guy is wielding a knife.”
After the incident, Detroit Mayor Mike
Duggan described the crew’s actions as an
“act of heroism.”
Adams said that despite having never
received personal safety training, she was just
doing what had to be done. But now she wor-
ries that other medics faced with a similar sit-
uation might panic or freeze up.
Traumatic injuries occur in an instant, but
recovery from their psychological effects can
last a lifetime.
I visited Rojas and Adams in the hospital
that morning, and despite being dazed, their
strength and resilience were evident. “My world
has just been rocked over sideways,” Adams
told me. “Nobody goes to work thinking this
is going to happen.”
Both paramedics had lost a lot of blood
and their wounds were sutured. The nerves in
Adams’ face were severed; one eye wouldn’t close
and she couldn’t completely close her mouth.
A small weight was placed in her eyelid so she
could close it all the way. Her salivary gland
duct was damaged.