In case you were in a secret bunker like Dick Cheney or do not have a computer, you missed the video burning up the Internet in late May of an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper who pulled over an ambulance going to the hospital with a patient in the back. The trooper was joined by another trooper and at one point, one of the troopers proceeded to physically choke the paramedic who was in the back of the ambulance and threatened to arrest him.
To say I was shocked by what I saw on the video is an understatement. In all my years in this business, I have never heard of a police officer pulling over an ambulance that was transporting a patient to the hospital — let alone manhandling those who are treating a patient.
It all started when an ambulance being driven by EMT Paul Franks for Creek Nation EMS was transporting a patient to the hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion. The incident occurred on U.S. 62 near Paden in Okfuskee County. Franks' partner, Paramedic Maurice White, who was sitting in the captain's chair in the rear compartment, noticed a Highway Patrol car approaching from the rear at a high rate of speed. According to White, the Highway Patrol car had emergency lights on, but no siren. When the Highway Patrol car was about three feet from the rear of the ambulance, White called out for Franks to pull over toward the shoulder and let the car pass. White said he never saw the Highway Patrol car because he was focused on a car that was in front of him. He also was driving on a hilly and winding road. His view was further obstructed because the Highway Patrol car approached at a high rate of speed with no audible siren and got within three feet of his back bumper. Because the Highway Patrol car was so close behind the ambulance and because of the design of the box of the ambulance, he could not see what was directly behind the box.
As soon as White moved to the right, the trooper in the Highway Patrol car passed the ambulance on the left at a high rate of speed and announced over a jointly shared radio frequency, "You should consider checking your rearview mirrors."
About three blocks later, White, who was still facing out the back of the ambulance, saw another Highway Patrol car with lights and siren on enter the road from behind and rapidly approach them. White told Franks to pull to the right since another Highway Patrol car was approaching from the rear. As Franks began easing to the right, the Highway Patrol car pulled up alongside and motioned for Franks to pull over. Franks did so, and both Franks and White exited the ambulance.
According to White, the trooper exited his car in a rage and yelled, "Get your ass back here. I am giving you a ticket for failure to yield." White informed the trooper that they were transporting a patient to the hospital. According to White, the trooper became even more belligerent and demanded that Franks come to his car so he could write him a ticket. White told the trooper that they needed to continue transporting the patient to the hospital. Again, according to White, the trooper approached him and shouted, "You are under arrest for obstructing a police officer."
The trooper then grabbed White by the arm and attempted to handcuff him. White was able to get away and re-enter the patient compartment to attend to the patient. As the crew was preparing to transport, there was a loud knock at the side door. Another trooper had arrived. He opened the door and yelled to White, "You are under arrest." White was then pulled from the ambulance by his arm. At one point, one of the troopers placed a choke hold on White, partially shutting off his air supply for 10 to 15 seconds. The trooper told White he could continue to the hospital, but he would be arrested once the ambulance arrived.
At the hospital, the troopers decided not to arrest White after making some telephone calls. They did tell him to be prepared to turn himself in during the coming week when warrants would be issued. At presstime, county prosecutors had not determined whether any charges would be filed.
All of this reminded me of the time I had dinner with a gentleman from Ohio who was a firefighter, a paramedic and a police officer. His rule of thumb was he did not issue tickets to firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics, nurses and emergency room doctors. His philosophy was that his life may one day depend on one of those people. How true his thinking is!
During our daily work routines, we must work side-by-side with police officers, most of whom are extremely professional. Our lives may depend on them and their lives may depend on us. We are all brother and sisters in the public safety arena.
The unfortunate actions of these troopers in Oklahoma are not indicative of what I have experienced when dealing with police officers over the last 30-plus years. They support us and we support them in doing the tough jobs that both professions must do. I will always be grateful for the many times they are there — including the securing of shooting scenes before I go in, blocking traffic at accident scenes, and the times they are there when a patient, family member or bystander becomes unruly and their intervention is needed.
GARY LUDWIG, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis, TN, Fire Department. He has 30 years of fire-rescue service experience. Ludwig is chairman of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has a master's degree in business and management, and is a licensed paramedic. He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally, and can be reached through his website at www.garyludwig.com.