Pa. ambulance service to provide body armor for EMS providers

West End Ambulance Service board of directors is expected to approve the purchase of 10 protective vests

By Ron Musselman
The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Paramedics and emergency medical technicians throughout the country are facing more life-threatening situations on a daily basis.

Some even have been attacked on the job.

West End Ambulance Service, located at 175 Garfield St., Johnstown, has decided to add an extra level of protection.

A few emergency responders have been using self-purchased body armor for the past month and the organization’s board of directors is expected to approve the purchase of 10 protective vests at a meeting Tuesday night.

“I have (a vest) and I throw it on every time before I go out the door on calls,” said Mike Kelly, president of the board and part-time paramedic at West End Ambulance Service, as well as a full-time city of Johnstown firefighter.

The body armor weighs between 18 and 20 pounds and costs approximately $250.

“It’s well worth the price,” Kelly said.

Ira Hart, manager of West End Ambulance Service, said on Monday that there are 37 paramedics and EMTs in his organization, with 11 of them being full-time.

The unit also has five ambulances.

“We don’t want to alarm the public over these vests,” Hart said. “We just want to protect our people.

"We’re the first ones in the area to wear them, but I’m not looking to be a ground-breaker. I’m looking to get vests to put in the ambulances so our active crews are protected. If we get them approved Tuesday, and I have no doubt we will, I’d like to get them in the vehicles within 30 days.

Hart cited an incident in November in which a woman in Harrisburg lunged at a paramedic with a knife and tried to stab him in the chest.

He also pointed out that Cleveland EMS recently instituted a new policy that requires paramedics and EMTs to wear bulletproof vests during every call.

“A lot of our folks already have committed to buying their own vests or helping us pay for the ones we are getting,” Hart said. “But if we could find a generous benefactor that would like to help us out, that would be wonderful.”

Hart said he had been studying the potential use of vests for a few years.

“It’s been a heightened awareness, probably in the last six months,” he said. “We don’t know what we’re going to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

“You truly can’t say that there’s any one area that is worse than another regarding where you might run into trouble. It can happen anywhere, any time at any place.

“For us, we sort of have a unique situation where you go into a home and think you’re dealing with a medical call. If you’re kneeling down over a patient and somebody comes down from upstairs, they can come at you with a firearm or a sharp object and we don’t have any defense.

“This (body armor) will give us some protection, but you’re still vulnerable in some respects,” Hart said.

(c)2016 The Tribune-Democrat

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