East Pierce buying body armor for firefighters

It’s typically a firefighter’s job to deal with fires, not bullets being fired from a gun.

But with the way the world is moving, it’s good to be prepared for any kind of hot situation, the department decided.

As of the April 18 fire commissioner’s meeting, East Pierce was given unanimous approval to purchase 32 sets of ballistic helmets and vests for first responders, which will cost the department around $75,500.

“New policies and procedures adopted widely across the country now dictate that fire/EMS personnel will enter ‘warm zones’ at active shooter events, with police escort to try and rescue, treat and extract injured patients,” Assistant Chief Russ McCallion wrote in a report presented to the commissioners. “While not in a designated ‘hot’ zone (where police are confronting the ‘bad guys’) there is still the potential exposure to gunfire and other risks while inside the warm zone.”

McCallion added that WAC 296-305 requires ballistic protection while working in a warm zone.

Fire Chief Bud Backer used the recent Kent gas station shooting as a example of a warm zone – police are reasonably certain the shooter is no longer on the scene, but there are injured bystanders who need aid before the area can be declared 100 percent safe.

“Time is important to people who are shot and bleeding out,” he said.

According to McCallion, the process for purchasing the ballistic gear began in 2015, when the commissioners budgeted $50,000 for the gear in 2016. The commissioners budgeted another $25,000 for the gear when making the 2017 budget.

While Backer said the gear will most likely see little use outside training, portions of the vests have shelf lives and are required by law to be replaced when their shelf lives are expired.

New materials for the vests will have to be purchased every five to seven years, although there is a push on the national level to exempt firefighters from the traditional ballistic armor shelf life, since the gear isn’t worn daily, Backer said.

According to McCallion, the “per year” ownership costs, which includes the initial purchase of the gear, is estimated to come out at around $12,000.

In other news, the commissioners also approved of a fire and EMS levy lid lift, which is scheduled for the Aug. 1 ballot.

The lid lifts will reset the fire and EMS levy rates to their maximum amount, $1.50 and $0.50 respectively, if approved by a simple majority of residents.