NY EMTs equipped with body armor

Fire chief: "We’re at the point now where we need to (equip) certain medical units with these ballistic vests"

By Micaela Parker
The Observer-Dispatch

UTICA, N.Y.   Five years ago, Steven Dziura would have described outfitting emergency medical services agencies with ballistic vests as a “crazy thought.”

But for Dziura, the chief of EMS for the Central Oneida County Volunteer Ambulance Corps, it’s a new reality after the agency purchased 10 of the vests for their EMTs to wear to high-risk calls.

A paramedic shows a ballistic vest in one of the ambulances used by personnel.
A paramedic shows a ballistic vest in one of the ambulances used by personnel. (Photo courtesy the Observer Dispatch)

“Thankfully, we haven’t had to deploy them yet,” Dziura said. “They’re there for the just in case. Anything like a domestic dispute with violence involved, any dispatch with weapons involved or any police department standoff where we’re on standby. They’re for any incident where there’s the potential to have weapons involved.”

Dziura said the idea for ballistic vests for the agency’s EMTs came to him while they were performing an active shooter drill at Hamilton College. The training, which focused on the idea that the shooter still would be on the loose while emergency responders worked to assist victims, made him uncomfortable with the idea of his people being in the open with no protection.

It wasn’t only his observations from that drill that inspired him to seek additional protection, but also a recent spate of mass-casualty incidents around the world.

“As early as five years ago I would have told you this would have been a crazy thought to do this,” Dziura said last week. “In the last 48 hours of news, we went from the Dallas Police Department shooting to the Nice (France) truck thing to the coup in Turkey to Baton Rouge. ... It was craziness and we’re feeling that pressure, too.”

Since then, nearly a dozen people also were killed by a shooter at a shopping mall in Germany.

The Central Oneida County Volunteer Ambulance Corps isn't alone in looking into protection. Ballistic vests also are being considered by the Utica Fire Department for its paramedics, Fire Chief Russell Brooks said.

“In my opinion, we’re at the point now where we need to (equip) certain medical units with these ballistic vests, with helmets and whatever else would be appropriate,” Brooks said.

Brooks and Dziura also pointed to evolving police tactics as a reason for the vests, something Utica Police Capt. Donald Cinque explained as a rescue task force principle.

Rather than clearing an entire building before medics are brought in to assist the wounded, EMS personnel are brought to a "safe spot" where they are watched over by law enforcement while they give victims medical treatment as quickly as possible, Cinque said.

Dario Damore, president and CEO of the Greater Lenox Ambulance Service, said two of the agency’s eight EMTs have ballistics vests — one purchased his on his own while the other already owned one through a prior career as a member of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team.

Pointing to the high costs of the vests – which can run anywhere between $300 and $3,000 – Damore said he hoped the agency would be able to obtain the vests from local police as that agency sought to upgrade their current gear.

“Unfortunately in today’s world, things have changed drastically and you don’t know,” Damore said. “You have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Copyright 2016 Observer-Dispatch

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