NEW YORK -- Luis Feliciano's job as an emergency medical technician in Staten Island, N.Y., is to help people in need of immediate medical care. He wraps broken bones, gives oxygen and gets patients to the hospital as fast as he can.
But for all his good work, the South Beach resident has been verbally abused, punched in the face and stared down by a machete-toting man. On Thursday night, a man he was trying to aid in a Stapleton apartment building allegedly flung him to the ground, causing Feliciano, 48, to be hospitalized with chest and side pains.
"It's not uncommon [that] we get assaulted verbally, or even physically," Feliciano, who works out of Richmond University Medical Center, West Brighton, said yesterday in an interview in his hospital room. "You're out there helping people, and this is what happens."
While he doesn't seem to have broken bones, the pain is considerable, Feliciano said. He was listed in stable condition, a RUMC spokeswoman said.
The plucky veteran of more than 19 years vowed to get back in the saddle right away.
"It's stressful, but you keep going," said Feliciano, an amiable, dark-haired man, who wears glasses. "If people know we're out there, even if we're getting hurt, and go back for more, it shows our dedication. We love saving lives and helping out people."
The alleged assailant, Pedro Hernandez, 42, of the 200 block of Osgood Avenue, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and attempted assault, along with harassment.
He was to be arraigned yesterday in Stapleton Criminal Court. Attempts to obtain a telephone listing for him were unsuccessful.
Jennifer Sammartino, a RUMC spokeswoman, said there have been four assaults against hospital EMTs in the past year. A source provided the information that six EMTs, all told, have been attacked in the borough over the past 12 months.
A spokesman for the Fire Department, which dispatches EMTs through the 911 system, could not immediately say yesterday how many EMTs have been attacked in the past year while on duty.
Thursday's incident occurred around 9 p.m., according to court papers.
Feliciano said he and his partner, Perry Kennedy, were dispatched to the scene to handle an "unknown condition."
Those jobs often are the most volatile, said William Amaniera, interim director of emergency medical services at Richmond University.
"You have no idea what you're getting into," he said.
In fact, Feliciano was attacked when he responded to such a call outside a St. George social service agency two months ago. As he tended to the patient, the man, who initially appeared calm, clocked him in the eye, fracturing small bones and scratching the cornea. Despite the injuries, Feliciano didn't miss time from work.
Amaniera said EMTs previously could monitor an NYPD frequency on their radios to hear if cops were being dispatched to the scene. Sometimes, those dispatches contained additional information on the person needing aid, such as if they were violent, or other details about the scene.
The Fire Department removed those frequencies four years ago, Amaniera said, but added there is a current pilot program in Brooklyn to restore them.
"I'm thankful to the Fire Department for reconsidering this for the safety of our EMTs," said Amaniera.
On arriving at the building Thursday, Feliciano said he and Kennedy received an update that the patient was having a stroke.
With the elevator broken, Feliciano lugged about 40 pounds of equipment, including an oxygen tank, up six flights of stairs.
At the apartment, a woman emerged screaming that Hernandez was having a stroke or seizure. She took two pit bulls out of the apartment into the hallway.
Hernandez appeared pale, sweaty and dazed, yet was agitated and confrontational, said Feliciano. As Feliciano checked his vital signs, Hernandez suddenly picked up the 230-pound EMT and flung him. The defendant weighs about 170 pounds, according to police reports.
"He went haywire. He scooped me up and tossed me on the floor," said Feliciano. "It was a spontaneous outburst."
Kennedy immediately tried to restrain Hernandez and Feliciano got up and joined him. Hernandez flailed out, punching Kennedy in the chest so hard, it sounded like a heart-resuscitation thump, said Feliciano.
Kennedy bounced up and the two EMTs eventually restrained Hernandez and called for help. Police arrived later to arrest him.
Kennedy was unavailable yesterday for comment.
Unsettling as the episode was, it may not have been Feliciano's scariest on the job.
Several years ago, a Mariners Harbor man fingered a machete and stared down Feliciano and a female partner who had responded to a call for a woman in distress. There was no woman in the apartment and the man locked the door behind them, Feliciano said.
Using a ruse of needing more equipment from their rig, Feliciano and his partner managed to get out of the apartment quickly. They were unhurt.
Still, for all his bruises and close calls, Feliciano, who is married and has a daughter, Jennifer, 18, has no intention of turning in his gear.
"I never lost my faith in people," he said. "Never did, never will."
TAIL: Frank Donnelly is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org