Milwaukee paramedics foil robbery, rescue victim
By Linda Spice
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Copyright 2008 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE — At first, Milwaukee Fire Lt. William Echevarria didn't believe his partner, Jason Oberg, when the firefighter/paramedic pointed to a woman he thought was being robbed.
Then both saw her bloodied face.
"He says, 'Oh, wow, he's beating her up!' " Echevarria said. "He's pulling her hair and purse."
Within moments, the two would foil the robbery, rescue the victim, capture the suspect -- and earn the praise of Milwaukee Battalion 1 Fire Chief Steven Gleisner.
"It was a selfless act," Gleisner said. "This exemplifies who we are."
The two paramedics had just dropped off a patient at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital on the city's east side and were headed to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa to pick up medicine when they spotted the armed robbery near the parking structure of a university dorm about 8 p.m. Monday.
Oberg pulled to a stop in the 2100 block of N. Farwell Ave., jumped from the red paramedic truck and rushed toward the robber, yelling at him. The suspect let go of the woman and tried to run away. Within 100 feet, Oberg caught him.
As they wrestled, the 33-year-old suspect attempted to pull something from his torso, Oberg recalled Tuesday.
"I felt something hard, and I found out later it was a gun he was wrestling for," Oberg said. "I've never been so scared in my life when I realized what was going on."
Echevarria had followed closely behind after calling for police, and for an ambulance for the 21-year-old victim.
Oberg was able to get the gun pointed to the side; Echevarria struck the suspect twice on the head with his radio and grabbed the gun away.
"I thought, 'It's a life-or-death situation; we're going to get shot here,' " Echevarria said. "I said, 'We have to take this guy down.' "
Echevarria is part of a group of paramedics that responds with Milwaukee police to high-risk calls on a tactical enforcement unit. He said that as part of the training, he learned the need to secure weapons and get them out of the way. When he did that this time, he realized the gun was a replica.
He told Oberg they could stop worrying.
The two paramedics held the man down until police arrived and arrested him. He remained in custody Tuesday.
The victim, who was on her way to work when the robbery occurred, was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Oberg, who suffered a back injury during the altercation, also was taken to a hospital. He was treated and released.
Echevarria has been with the Milwaukee Fire Department for 15 years; Oberg has been with the department six years. Both are assigned to Med 6, which is stationed at 2050 N. Palmer St.
Echevarria said he and his colleague are taking some good-natured ribbing from fellow firefighters.
"They said, 'It says on the side of your rig "Milwaukee Fire Department," not "Milwaukee Police Department," ' " Echevarria said. "My point is, my partner reacted. . . . I was not going to let my partner go by himself. When he was giving chase to the suspect, I said, 'I'm going in.' That's how we train: two in, two out."