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Firefighters worry about crowd control

MILWAUKEE -- When a hostile crowd attacked a driver who accidentally struck a 3-year-old child on Memorial Day, Milwaukee emergency medical workers found themselves in the middle of a bad situation.

"The firefighters are concerned, our paramedics, that this is what they have to look forward to this summer," Milwaukee Fire Department spokeswoman Tiffany Wynn said. "This is not what they want to encounter all summer long."

Battalion chiefs will meet with Fire Chief Doug Holton this week to discuss safety issues in light of the May 26 incident, Wynn said.

A 48-year-old man was driving northbound in the 4500 block of N. Teutonia Ave. when he struck the 3-year-old at about 9:30 p.m. Medical personnel from the fire department arrived at 9:38 p.m. to find the driver being attacked by bystanders in a chaotic scene. The man, who had stopped after hitting the child, sought refuge inside a fire truck until police arrived four minutes later.

"It was a very unruly crowd," Wynn said. "There were a lot of emotions flying. They were attacking this man."

The girl was taken to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, where she was initially listed in critical condition. She survived the accident, but police did not have information on her condition.

The driver, who was not speeding and hadn't been drinking, stopped and was apparently attacked by people at the scene, even before a call was made to 911 for the child, according to Wynn. In the middle of it all, his car was stolen, police said.

The car was later found by police and returned on Wednesday. Police referred battery charges against one bystander to prosecutors, but the victim did not show up and did not want to prosecute the case, according to police.

Still, in the aftermath of that day's events Milwaukee fire officials are questioning how they can best serve citizens in need of their help without becoming ensnared in violence.

"People need to understand, the community, citizens, when we are diverted from doing our job, or if we have to control an unruly crowd, that takes every minute away from a life we are trying to save or the person we are trying to help," Wynn said.

She also noted that it is a felony to touch a firefighter or paramedic.

Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Local 215 President Bobbie Webber said union officials also have plans to meet with Holton to discuss the case, which highlights existing concerns about proper staffing in the field, especially when facing hostile crowds at crime or accident scenes.

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