Law enforcement PPE and the firefighter

I think I'll always believe the best way for fire and EMS personnel to stay safe on a violent incident is to stay out of it

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: Ohio legislators have crafted legislation giving medics the right to carry guns when they go on calls with SWAT teams. Earlier this year, it emerged that Hemet, Calif. firefighters will begin wearing body armor when responding to threatening calls or deadly situations. Part of a growing trend for police PPE and firearms? Our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel gives his thoughts below.

I remember when I moved to North Carolina from Maryland almost 20 years ago. One of the first things I noticed when I got in the back of the medic unit in the city where I worked was the body armor strapped to the seat; the medics also told me to keep the interior lights off because it made us a better target.

Despite this early exposure, I admit to having a hard time rationalizing the need for what we typically think of as law enforcement PPE — such as body armor and sidearms — in the fire and emergency services.

I guess I was always trained (drilled, actually) to stay out of "that kind" of hot zone; and it stuck.

However, I also know from experience that it's not always possible to define a hot zone in a violent incident, much less figure out how to stay out of one. (Or recognize when you're already in it.)

I vividly remember watching my captain stand toe-to-toe with a man we ultimately identified as a murderer while "staging" around the corner in what we thought was a safe location.

Frankly, I think I'll always believe the best way for fire and EMS personnel to stay safe on a violent incident is to stay out of it by staging as far away as possible, or by quickly finding cover and concealment (while seeking an egress route) if it "hits the fan" without warning.

Still, I can't help but imagine a time when it's possible, if not probable, that first responders will certainly consider body armor the same way we (now) consider patient care gloves and SCBA.

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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