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How one EMS agency found its body armor solution

Propper made it easy to find the right fit for EMS providers, says an operations chief with an ambulance district outside St. Louis

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A growing number of agencies, like the St. Charles County Ambulance District outside St. Louis, have purchased body armor to prioritize provider health and safety. Propper offered the color and features SCCAD wanted.


Sponsored by Propper

By Yoona Ha, EMS1 BrandFocus Staff

EMS professionals are known to deal with the unpredictable, but what about an active shooter incident? The reality is that first responders are increasingly exposed to violence – in fact, a recent FBI report revealed that the number of active shooter scenarios has skyrocketed over the past few years.

First responders everywhere are tasked with providing critical care to victims, but to what extent is that possible when they’re working in hostile, life-threatening environments? To protect EMTs and paramedics, agencies nationwide have considered purchasing body armor as required personal protective equipment.

A growing number of agencies, like the one that oversees the St. Charles County Ambulance District outside St. Louis, have already purchased body armor for their personnel to prioritize provider health and safety.

The challenge: Finding the right body armor that’s comfortable and keeps EMS safety top of mind

Each year, St. Charles County handles roughly 40,000 calls per year, with around 280 paramedics and EMS professionals on staff. The agency serves one of the largest ambulance districts in the state and has grappled with a rise in calls that could put first responders at risk of being hurt or even assaulted by those on the scene.

“As the number of calls increases for us, so does the number of exposures to violence,” said Brandon Jones, battalion chief of operations at SCCAD. “It just made sense to start looking for some sort of ballistic protection.”

Jones and his team took a proactive approach – but they didn’t want just any generic-looking body armor, especially given recent tensions between residents and police in nearby Ferguson. So Jones and SCCAD looked for options that would help distinguish EMS personnel from law enforcement officials. After all, it’s important for the public and first responders to be able to distinguish a paramedic wearing a ballistic vest from an officer wearing riot gear.

“Ferguson kind of changed the landscape for first responders, so the color of the vest was very important to us,” he said. “We wanted royal blue, and we didn’t want anything that looked like a badge.”

They also wanted the body armor to include clear identification as EMS and pouches that would make it easy for providers to carry critical lifesaving tools like radios, scissors and tourniquets. But most importantly, Jones and his team wanted the body armor to be comfortable to wear for a full shift.

The solution: Propper makes body armor designed for EMS providers

Finding the right body armor for EMS personnel wasn’t an easy task at first. Why? Because the unique body postures and positions of EMS providers during any given shift require a vest that allows freedom of movement without sacrificing protective coverage.

Propper, a body armor manufacturer headquartered nearby, was already designing its product with EMS needs in mind. Propper representatives asked what SCCAD wanted in its vests and offered several different models and sizes for them to try out.

“We tried them on, we jumped up and down, we crawled, we got in and out of the ambulance with them,” Jones said. “We didn’t want something that was uncomfortable because people wouldn’t wear it.”

Another key consideration was what kind of vest they needed – ballistic or stab resistant? Because the way the fibers are woven is what provides protection, most body armor can’t do both. But Propper offered a thin insert that SCCAD providers can add to their soft ballistic vests for stab and slash protection.

The ability to customize the vests was a huge plus, and Propper’s non-cookie cutter approach was what sealed the deal, says Jones. Every individual provider was measured and fitted, each person was able to place pouches where they wanted them, and the agency was able to choose the exact blue they wanted out of a catalog of fabric colors.

“It just seemed a lot more built for the individual,” he said. “They offered a lot of customization that we weren’t able to get elsewhere.”

The results: When your body armor is comfortable, compliance is a non-issue

The agency purchased 140 Level IIIA soft body armor vests in early 2017, and first responders were given guidance on when it’s required to wear them. While getting EMS providers to wear body armor could have been a challenge for some agencies, it wasn’t a problem for SCCAD. Jones says providers wear the vests every day and that the customized look and fit made it easy for everyone to get on board.

In addition, Jones said Propper gave his department straightforward instructions on how to properly store and maintain their body armor. In the end, there was no question in his mind on the value his new body armor brought to protect the first responders of SCCAD. The agency is planning another purchase soon to outfit new hires.

The best part? Jones says he gets positive feedback about the body armor every week.

“All of our employees like the vests,” he said. “They like how they look, they like how they feel, and they’re comfortable.”