By Larry Barszewski
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — Broward County’s firefighter-paramedics are used to wearing protective gear for battling blazes. Now they’ll be getting new protection — body armor vests and helmets — for when they’re assisting victims in incidents involving guns or other dangerous weapons.
It’s a sign of the times, officials say, with the proliferation of active shooter and mass casualty cases across the country, including deadly incidents at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year.
“Fire rescue responders must not only have adequate training, but also the necessary safety equipment to deal with life-threatening injuries in an effective manner alongside law enforcement who is dealing with the threat,” Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Gregory Holness said in a memo requesting the equipment.
Broward commissioners approved spending $177,000 last week to purchase 176 body armor packages that will equip every front-line fire-rescue vehicle in the department with the vests, which use steel plate inserts in the front and back, and helmets for each crew member on board.
The Orlando and Orange County fire-rescue departments made similar purchases after the Pulse shootings, where 49 people were killed by gunman Omar Mateen in June 2016.
Fort Lauderdale’s fire-rescue department has provided bulletproof body armor and helmets to its crews for about five years, Capt. Greg May said. Firefighters and paramedics are required to wear body armor when responding to a shooting, stabbing or domestic violence incident. The helmets are required when there is an active shooter or active gunfire.
The navy blue vests and helmets are marked “fire rescue” and are shared by each shift. The city spent about $100,000. While other departments may have a limited number of bulletproof vests and helmets to be used in emergencies, Fort Lauderdale was the first in Broward to use them systemwide, May said.
Many of the Fort Lauderdale crews who responded to the airport shootings, where six people were killed, donned the gear as they made their way through the terminals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommended in 2013 the use of body armor by firefighters and emergency and medical technicians.
"Our crews are donning it more and more often," May said. “They’re always going into the hot zone, but now they’re doing it in a safer manner.”
Broward’s equipment will be paid for through law enforcement trust fund dollars that come from the sale of property seized during the commission of felonies.
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