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Body Armor - Tactical + Practical?

The world of EMS is ever changing, as are the demands and challenges placed on our fire and EMS first responders. Our scope of practice is expanding, and the tools being added to the rigs are more plentiful. Our industry looks a lot different than just a few short decades ago. Some agencies (both rural and urban) have decided to outfit their personnel with body armor. Some would argue that overall violence and rioting across the country is at an all-time high. The same can likely be said around our exposure to unsafe scenes. Scene control can be compromised in blink of an eye, even with heavy law enforcement presence.

Unfortunately, it's almost commonplace to watch the national or local news and hear about another active shooter response. The reasons "why" can be debated forever, and a general consensus is likely not to be reached. The proposed solutions are as complex as the debates.

Are these additional parts of the uniform simply a knee jerk reaction or has the mindset changed completely about how we protect ourselves and prevent life threatening injury?? Do they simply weigh us down and make us even more vulnerable?? What are your thoughts?? What is your agency doing about it, if anything??

In known high crime areas as stated before, some agencies have made the addition of body armor mandatory. The benefits around life safety are pretty obvious, but the armor comes at a cost - and it's not just financial. There are lots of ballistic vendors out there and each has their own pros/cons/limitations that we should be familiar with.

Like any other piece of PPE you own, it should regularly be inspected. It's all about being prepared. Remember we all have a family to go home to at the end of the shift.

Some other helpful things to know:

Grants may be available:

Check with federal agencies like FEMA, US DOJ, HHS and ... even Walmart.

If your agency is fortunate enough to secure a grant -- each member may be able to get a vest custom fit to the individual (best practice).

Vests can protect against multiple threats:

Think beyond bullets/projectiles - I'm talking stab and slash protection as well.

Not all vests are created equal:

Most agencies consider Class/Level IIIa their baseline (protects against handguns only), its lighter than most, but the protection standards are lessened as a consequence.

Consider Kevlar helmets too:

Your craniums are rather important when it comes to performing basic body functions and you know -- this little thing called living.

Some argue this transition makes us look more like police:

This is something we have been trying to differentiate ourselves from in recent years -- the jury is still out. There's also not a consensus on whether vests get worn outside or underneath our uniforms.

As we wrap up and reflect - there's a reason why "scene safety" is one of the most often repeated phrases in any EMS class. Situational awareness, along with being able to effectively communicate, has kept me safe over my twenty-year career. This added layer of protection may give you or even your family some peace of mind, while you're on the job. Simply something to consider and as always BE SAFE!!

September 4, 2023

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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