A 19-year-old volunteer emergency medical service worker was injured when the ambulance he was in was struck by "a fired projectile" while responding to a police call Tuesday night in Bellport, an EMS official said.
The worker, a volunteer with South Country Ambulance, was struck by debris, including flying glass shards, when the projectile, believed to be a bullet or high-powered pellet, penetrated a rear tempered-glass window, South Country chief of department Gregory C. Miglino Jr. told Newsday.
Miglino said the crew was responding to a call involving "a mentally unstable patient," a call that required the three crew members to be wearing bulletproof vests.
He said the vest policy, instituted about 18 months ago because of what he described as "an uptick in gun violence in the area," also helped prevent potentially serious injuries.
Miglino, who has served as chief since 1994, said he was "grateful" no one was seriously injured but said he was alarmed.
"We've never had anything like this," he said. "Nothing of this magnitude. We've never had a vehicle fired upon responding to help someone."
Suffolk County police could not characterize what hit the ambulance, according to a police spokeswoman, who said only that "something" struck the ambulance window and that a crew member was "injured."
Photographs taken by South Country Ambulance volunteers showed a small circular hole through a rear window of the ambulance. Miglino said the window is made of tempered glass and that the hole appears to be the result of being struck by "a fired projectile." He added: "The hole's perfectly round. It was definitely the result of someone firing something."
The incident occurred at 7:55 p.m. as the unit, No. 5-42-20, was responding to assist police on a call at the intersection of Post Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Bellport. Police said that call involved a man who had to be subdued by stun gun. The man was taken by another South Country Ambulance to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, police and officials said.
The ambulance that was damaged had been in front of the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport, about a quarter-mile west of the call scene, when the EMS volunteer heard what was described as "a loud pop" -- and then reported being struck by "shrapnel," Miglino said.
Miglino said the two uninjured crew members were riding in the front of the ambulance, while the volunteer who was struck was riding in a captain's chair in the rear of the vehicle.
The injured crew member was hit in the neck and hair by flying glass, which also struck the left side of his lower back, Miglino said. He was treated at the scene.
The identities of the crew members were not released.
Police, who are investigating it as a criminal incident, said that after the ambulance was struck, a 911 caller reported that a male had been injured in a separate incident on Meade Avenue -- a location near where the ambulance was hit. Police said that male, who was not identified, sustained an injury to his right shoulder, an injury attributed to being hit "possibly by a pellet." His injuries were minor, police said Wednesday.
South Country Ambulance describes itself as one of the largest volunteer EMS units in the state.
"These are troubling times in our community," Miglino said. "There seems to be a general lack of respect for anyone, and now this includes ambulance volunteers."