Local fire department buys body armor

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BONNEY LAKE, Wash. – A local fire chief said he is outfitting his department with bullet-proof vests to get to victims quicker during active shooter situations.

“He went to a gunshot victim and became one himself,” said East Pierce County Fire Chief Bud Backer, describing what happened to a Dallas first responder on Monday.

Backer said what happened in Dallas could’ve happened to one of his firefighters in Kent two weeks ago, when the fire department responded to gunshot victims at a 76 gas station in Kent.

“They had to treat patients at that scene and police had secured the area, but when you don’t know where the shooter is, you don’t know if they are coming back or not,” he said.

State law requires that an area be secured before firefighters can go in and care for the injured.

“Where the perpetrator is will be called the hot zone and where the injured folks are will be called the warm zone,” explained Backer. “If we’re going to go into those warm zones to help patients, state law requires that we provide the ballistic protection for our personnel.”

Backer said it could mean the difference of hours, and a lives saved. He said the Cascade Mall shooting in Burlington is one example where these vests would be used to assist victims.

“If we don’t have it, we’re not going in there and the people aren’t going to have the protection that they need,” said Backer.

The chief ordered 32 vests, the same kind that SWAT teams wear, but in the color gray. He said it’s cheaper than buying custom vests like those on police, but it still comes with a $76,000 price tag. The chief said the vests and helmets will stay in the vehicles and will be used for any gunshot call.

“Two pieces on each of our medic units and three on our fire engines,” he said.

Tacoma Fire Department has had bullet-proof vests since the 1990s in response to gang violence. West Pierce Fire Department has the vests, too. It’s becoming more and more common, said Backer.

“We would put the vest on as we’re responding to the call,” he said.

The department expects to receive the vests within the next two months.

The Dallas paramedic who was shot Monday was still hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday.

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