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Female paramedics blast Antioch’s ‘frat house’ rescue squad

Updated: July 22, 2012 1:42AM

The Antioch Village Board’s discussion of a proposed ordinance and contract with the Antioch Rescue Squad got waylaid Monday night when three female paramedics and their attorney spoke of sexual harassment and patient mistreatment by ARS members detailed in a federal lawsuit.

“It’s a frat house atmosphere,” said M. Megan O’Malley, a Chicago attorney representing Shannon Volling, Julie Banser and April Soulak. They all claim sexual harassment during their tenure as paramedics.

They also witnessed alleged incidents of patient mistreatment, with incidents of male paramedics viewing the naked breasts of unconscious women or in more than one incident a paramedic broke wind into the faces of unconscious patients, said O’Malley.

The 56-page lawsuit details signed statements from 15 witnesses, all paramedics with ARS, to collaborate the allegations by the three plaintiffs. O’Malley said one witness characterized ARS as an “out of control grab-ass culture.”

The three women and O’Malley spoke publicly at the meeting that included village and ARS officials.

Banser, a paramedic from June 2008 to November 2010, said she was repeatedly harassed, her breasts groped and her pants were pulled down in front of other squad members. The other two plaintiffs described similar treatment. Soulak was with ARS from May 2010 to November 2011. Shannon has been on the squad since the summer of 2008.

“My clients want to see this situation fixed. We want grownups to say this is wrong and it needs to be fixed,” said O’Malley. “If this goes to a jury, they will seek damages. That is for a jury to decide.”

Metro Paramedic Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Superior Air/Ground Ambulance Service, is also named in the lawsuit. They jointly operate and staff the squads to supplement ARS volunteers. Metro paramedics are paid and also are ARS squad members.

The offenders are in the minority, but some of them hold positions on the ARS board. “Complaints made to the board were not addressed,” said O’Malley, describing the offenders as a handful of “bad apples.”

The lawsuit was filed with the Northern District Division of the Federal Court in Chicago last summer. ARS Chief Wayne Sobczak said he had no comment about the allegations and ARS Attorney Martin Lapointe said he would prefer to handle the lawsuit through the litigation process and not through the media.

“We don’t think the lawsuit has any merit and we have made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit,” he said.

Although village officials knew about the allegations and the lawsuit, they said that was not related to recent discussions to formalize a contract between ARS and the village that would give the village authority to regulate and license ambulance service.

“We’ve been working on this agreement for three years,” said Trustee Dennis Crosby. “The revelations are concerning, but what is driving this is looking at ambulance service from a logical business approach and an effort to bring the operation into the modern era.”

Banser said she stepped forward at the public meeting Monday to ask for the Village Board’s help in stopping unethical behavior and to protect residents from sexual abuse and substandard care.

“We’ve complained verbally and in writing and nothing has been resolved,” she said. “Our last resort was to file a lawsuit. My purpose in bringing this out into the open tonight is to ask village officials to protect the residents.”

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