A helping hand gets a punch in the face

First, vulgarities were hurled at him.

Then, he got punched in the face.

This was what Corporal Arun Raj Manivannan endured just six months into his national service as a medical orderly with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

And all he did was answer a call for help.

More Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel were abused in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year.

And the SCDF warns anyone who lays a finger on these lifesavers will be dealt with severely.

On Feb 13, Cpl Arun Raj, 20, and Staff Sergeant Yao Hong Bin, 27, found a man near the basement toilet of Jurong Point Shopping Centre, who was complaining of discomfort.

The 57-year-old man was verbally abusive, hurling vulgarities at a security guard.

Although he was cooperative and agreed to be put on a stretcher, the man turned on the paramedics as they placed him onto the gurney and took him to the ambulance.

He continued his tirade as the ambulance drove away from the mall towards the National University Hospital.

As Cpl Arun Raj tried to take the man's blood pressure, the man jerked back his right arm and punched him square on his right cheek.

SSG Yao immediately told the ambulance driver to stop before calling the police.

Cpl Arun Raj was given three days' medical leave and his attacker was sentenced to 10 months' jail on June 29.

Cpl Arun Raj said he was no stranger to verbal abuse and credited this to his past working experience as an inline skating instructor and a lifeguard.

But the punch took him by surprise.

He said: "I was shocked and, of course, I was angry. But as a public servant, we have our own rules. So I just kept calm and patient."

Cpl Arun Raj and SSG Yao are not the only EMS personnel who have been abused by patients and patients' relatives and friends.


In a statement released on Tuesday on its midyear statistics, the SCDF said there were 10 such cases between January and June this year.

This is four more than the six reported cases over the same period last year and includes verbal abuse, physical abuse or both.

Such assailants pay a heavy price as anyone who verbally abuses a public servant on duty can be jailed up to a year or fined up to $5,000.

Those who voluntarily cause hurt to a public servant on duty can be jailed up to seven years, fined, caned, or a combination of the three.

Two other offenders received stern warnings while the remaining cases are still pending.

SCDF said in the statement that it does not condone any forms of physical or verbal abuse against its personnel and will report any abuse to the police.

Chief Medical Officer Ng Yih Yng said that SCDF's EMS provides critical emergency care to patients in need of medical attention.

He said: "Threatening or abusing the EMS personnel would not only delay medical treatment but also put the patient at risk, especially in the event of a medical emergency."

Cpl Arun Raj, who went back to work after his medical leave, is not giving up.

He said: "Singaporeans look up to us. When they need medical assistance, they call the SCDF. Nothing has changed. I still feel like I need to be there for the people who are looking for us to help them."

SCDF's mid-year report also highlighted an increase in the number of non-emergency calls made.

Although they made up only 4.2 per cent of all calls SCDF has responded to, the number of such calls more than doubled over the same period:from 1,465 between January to June last year to 3,453 this year.

These calls place an unnecessary strain on resources and deprive those who are in genuine need of emergency medical assistance, said the SCDF.

While there is no fee imposed for emergency cases, $274 will be charged for each non-emergency patient taken to hospital by the SCDF.

This article was first published on August 27, 2015.
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