Safety for Medical Caregivers during a Protest.

Categories: Announcements, Open Mic, Reflections

As a moment of Introduction, I am a paramedic with 17 years street experience and participated in many protest marches during the Act-Up and AIDS protests in San Francisco in the early 1990’s.  Having one foot in the Public Safety world, and the other in the Protest community may, at times, seem to be a contradiction; however understanding the basics of police tactics and the appropriate role of a medical aid provider in a protest is essential to prevent the injuries and mis-handling of the injured person shown in the now famous U-Tube videos.  There are glaring errors on BOTH sides of the line.  Obviously, the fact the person was injured in the first place is of concern. Equally is the “rush” of protesters towards a solid police line under the “cover” of the few individuals who were rendering aid to the fallen protester is foolish, and the apparent “justification” for the use of the stun grenade.

If you watch the video closely, the police take no action when a few individuals approach.  They are obviously helping the fallen person.  However when the crowd of protesters, many with covered faces and brandishing signs, flags, yelling directly at the officers, the situation changed in the eyes of the police; THAT is when they used force.  Notice, the “protesters” run away from the grenade, the folks helping the wounded man do not run.  They had intent of purpose, the others were opportunists.

Taking this in mind, and being on the side of NO-ONE GETTING HURT, I am listing below some simple procedures for those wanting to be Medical Support for future protests:

1. Are you a Protester or will you be providing Medical Help?

If you decide to provide medical help, you need to identify yourself in that way.  We used bright orange vests with “MEDICAL” stenciled on the back. These were worn the ENTIRE PROTEST and you CANNOT be seen yelling, protesting, carrying signs, etc.   This clearly identified us as being a “non-combatant.”

You can be sure the police have many ambulances and a medical team only a block away from the line of protests.  They have everything you need to care for the injured, however they will not break their line because of the opportunists “rushing” them. ( as was shown in the video.)

You have to build TRUST, yes TRUST, that you are NOT going to harm them or act in anyway to “break” the police line.

2. Are you willing to get arrested to help a fellow Protester?

If you truly care for an injured protester, you will need to be willing to face arrest.  In the many protests myself and many others provided assistance in, we were never charged, but were taken “in custody” in order to secure the passage of a wounded comrade across the police line; this is to allow for rapid medical care.

3. Do you have 5-6 other friends who are willing to help out?

Taking the path to provide aid at the front of a protest is not for one or two people.  You need a “primary caregiver” and then 4-5 others who will act as a guard, to prevent protesters from rushing the police line.

In the case of this one individual (in the video) you would have seen a line of orange vest aid workers between the injured person and the crowd.  They hold hands and stretch out to provide a shield from mingling of “protesters” from the “Medical Team”  This means you will have you BACK to the officers, and face your own crowd and shouting “Medical Emergency, DO NOT CROSS” as loudly as possible.  This provides a buffer so that the caregiver can render aid without being surrounded with protesters.

4. Can you hold STRONG when you are called a collaborator?

When you form your own line, facing your own crowd, you may now be seen as a part of “THEM”  the “1%.”  This can be a bit dicey, and you have to BELIEVE in your duty to help the fallen comrade. You have to hold back the protesters so the police will feel “Secure.”  If you can hold the line, maybe even get the crowd to back off or be quiet, you will allow the commander of the police force an opening to do the right thing and allow the victim to cross over the Police Line.

5. Can you stay focused on the injured, and leave your politics at the police line?

IF you can maintain a line of helpers to keep a secure area, you can then check your fallen comrade.

1. Check to see if they are conscious.  “Are you OK?”  “What is your name?”

2. Check for breathing.

3. Feel for a pulse at the wrist.  Is it FAST -or- SLOW?  STRONG -or- WEAK?

6. Can you Calmly Speak to the Police?

Adrenaline will be pumping on all sides of the police line.  Everyone will be very tense.

Your action is to face the line of police and say so they can hear you , not “yelling” but firm, “I have an injured person here who needs Medical Assistance.  Who is the Office in Charge?”  You may need to ask several times.

If the Commander or Officer in Charge asks you what you need you will say firmly and with confidence:

“I have an injured person. They are unconscious.

They have a pulse and are breathing but need a Paramedic Immediately.

We need a backboards and straps.

Can THIS ONE PERSON cross the line for medical treatment?

I am willing to go with them if needed.”



IF…  your other volunteers are holding back the crowd.

IF…   the crowd backs off or quiets down.

IF….  the Officer in Charge believes you (sometimes it is obvious.)

THEN you MAY get assistance.

The usual method is as follows:

The police will allow a backboard to cross the line between officers.

You will roll the wounded comrade on their side, place the board under them.

You will secure the person to the board with the straps.

THEN you will say to the Officer in Charge.  “We are ready to transfer care.”

IF the Officer in Charge believes you have things under control, 3-4 people from the protesters side will lift the backboard up, and pass it carefully between the officers in the police line, and into the hands of the ambulance crew.

The Officer in Charge MIGHT allow you to cross with your patient.  It depends on the mood of the crowd and the ability of your people to hold your line.


If the crowd of protesters do not respect your authority and back down so you can render aid, then YES, the Police will throw flash grenades, etc and not heed your call for help.




If you cannot establish this MINIMUM SOCIAL CONTRACT within the group of protesters, then ANY OF YOU may be the next wounded comrade with no-one to help.






3 Responses to “Safety for Medical Caregivers during a Protest.”

  1. David Heatherly

    wiseoldsnail, I saw people gathering stones 10 blocks away from the place where that confrontation took place. Although the vast majority of my fellow protestors were peaceful, there was a group of people at the march last night — who were not at the march on Saturday — who were determined to provoke the police. And yes I believe that they share some of the blame for what happened that night to our wounded brother. The information that was posted here was helpful and erudite.

  2. christopher

    Look, lets say to fricken hell with the “divide and conquer” thinking. We’re all trying to do our best, lets give eachother some grace here.

    How can I help? I would like to volunteer as a medical caregiver responder. Where can I get a bright colored vest? Thank you…. Lets stay together and stay strong.
    Chris (Apachicano)

  3. wiseoldsnail

    thanks for your advice. though much of it is good, i’m not swallowing your rude, superior tone regarding your obvious opinion that protesters were opportunistic in approaching the attacking forces. people were stunned, and reacted in rage, rightfully so. not all are ghandi.