Officials buy body armor for fire department

GREENFIELD — Outbreaks of violence across the country prompted local fire officials to seek funding for body armor for Greenfield’s firefighters.

Employees of the Greenfield Fire Territory will soon carry bullet-proof vests — similar to those worn by police officers – as protection in case they are called to the scene of an active shooter, officials said.

The fire department will purchase eight vests at a cost of $300 apiece, Chief James Roberts said. The vests will be kept behind the front driver and passenger seats of the department’s two ambulances and two fire engines, and Roberts said he hopes they will never need to be used.

But people often forget firefighters, paramedics and EMTs are called out to these tragic and violent emergencies, too, Roberts said. They are there to patch up the wounded and face the same dangers as their friends in law enforcement, he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2014 issued a report recommending that communities purchase protective equipment for firefighters and EMS officials, who often provide support in instances involving active shooters with mass casualties.

Such equipment is essential for the safety of all first-responders, including fire and rescue workers “who may be called upon to support (law enforcement) teams during an active shooter incident and enter an unsecured active shooter area,” the report states.

Roberts’ request comes on the heels of Greenfield Police Department officials allocating $16,600 to purchase an additional 37 bullet-proof vests for officers to keep in their take-home patrol cars. The vests would be used as an extra layer of protection in case of an active shooter, in addition to the bullet-proof vests officers wear daily under their uniforms.

Roberts said he spoke with Greenfield Police Chief John Jester after the $16,600 request was approved. The fire department’s vests will come from the same company as the police department’s, he said.

When he became a firefighter 20 years ago, Deputy Fire Chief Jason Horning said never considered a bullet-proof vest would become a vital piece of equipment. Now, it’s common for departments to keep such gear in fire trucks, among the hoses, axes and first-aid kits they’ve always carried, he said.

The vests would also be available to the firefighters to respond with police to SWAT calls and any other emergency where a firearm might be involved, Horning said.

He hoped having the equipment on hand would help the firefighters feel safer during in these emergency calls.

“We’re a smaller community, but we’re not exempt,” Horning said. “I’d rather have them — and … never need them — than not have them at all.”

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.