Violence against emergency workers? These ambulance-workers don’t see it

By Sam van der Loo


At the beginning of November, it was announced that ambulance staff in the Netherlands will receive bullet and stab-proof vests and helmets. This advice came from branch organization Ambulancezorg Nederland (AZN) and is accepted by all regional ambulance services. Much to the surprise of Jeroen and Mark, working on an ambulance at the OLVG hospital in Amsterdam.

“Do we even need this?” is the first question the duo asks themselves. The two are dumbfounded with the news about such vests. “I have rarely, if ever, felt unsafe during my work,” states Jeroen, who, like Mark, prefers not to share his last name. “The weird thing is that we were not even informed about this news. It is strange to say the least that the ambulance staff is not informed about this subject before it appears on the news.” Employees were not made aware before the press of this incoming change.

And it made quite the splash in the news. The Dutch public broadcast corporation NOS headline stated: “Ambulance personnel to receive bulletproof vests”, while GeenStijl added a photograph of an armoured tank with a red cross on it to their article. De Dagelijkse Standaard said that “this country is going down”. Each medium gave its own twist to the story, which meant that AZN’s press release was not completely translated correctly.

The AZN statement was as follows:

[…] “In case of extreme violence, other risks for caregivers play a greater role than usual. Although all procedures are aimed at the safety of care providers, it remains possible that some situations could still be dangerous. For this reason, AZN advised the regional ambulance facilities some time ago to procure shard-proof vests and helmets that ambulance professionals can wear if they have to provide care in situations where there is extreme violence. All facilities have adopted this advice in consultation with their works councils. […] The facilities decide for themselves how and when they decide to purchase the vests and helmets.”

Therefore, wearing bullet and stab-proof vests is only advised in case of extreme violence, such as a terrorist attack, and not a requirement in the daily routine. To clarify any confusion created by the media, the minister of medical care and sports, Bruno Bruins, made a short statement in front of the cameras of the AD. He stated “the threat of terrorism is the reason for the bulletproof vests in ambulances.” However, employees are confused as to why they were not made aware of this decision before the press and general public was.

The vests, according to Minister Bruins and the statement of AZN, would therefore only be provided during extreme violence. A statement that raises questions once more with Jeroen. “Recently, there was such an incident in Amsterdam”, he says, referring to the stabbing at the central station of Amsterdam in September. “Even then, something like a bulletproof vest would not be necessary. The police always arrive first and when they say it is safe, the ambulance staff comes in. Own safety first, that is the motto.”

“We had a well-respected profession, which is now somewhat damaged by the negative expressions in the media”

“I will not pay too much attention to it”, added Mark, who has been an emergency worker for twelve years. “It is already the umpteenth time that ambulance staff appear in the news for whatever reason.” Mark is referring to the large amount of coverage Dutch ambulance employees have received recently due to the rough negotiations concerning a new collective labour agreement. “All the news that even contains the word ‘ambulance’ is widely reported by the media. We had a well-respected profession, which is now somewhat damaged by the negative expressions in the media.”

Therefore, the news surrounding the distribution of bullet and stab-proof vests has caused, yet again, a lot of sensation around emergency workers. Poor communication with employees, however, has lead to a lot of confusion. This solution seems to have appeared out of thin air and without cause and makes workers feeling more paranoid than safe. This turn of events makes one wonder, what will happen next?