Ohio Department to Outfit Firefighters With Bulletproof Vests

Posted: 11-06-2008
Updated: 11-07-2008 09:33:23 AM

Firehouse.Com News

This past July, 22-year-old Maplewood Firefighter Ryan Hummert was fatally shot by a man holed up in a burning home.

In September, D.C. Firefighter Hakim Carroll was shot in the arm as he and other firefighters forced entry into an apartment.

Just last month, firefighters in Independence, Ky. were shot at when they arrived at a burning Kentucky home where they found three family members dead.

Because of such incidents, some fire departments are opting to provide their members with bulletproof vests in order to ensure the safety of its workers.

In approximately six weeks, the Canton, Ohio Fire Department will outfit its more than 170 firefighters with bulletproof vests which cost about $500 each.

Department spokesman John Whitlatch said that while neighboring departments such as Columbus outfit firefighters with bulletproof vests, the practice is still "relatively unusual."

The union local, Canton Professional Firefighters Association Local 249, requested the vests during the last round of contract negotiations.

"It was agreed by both union and management," Whitlatch said. "We felt that the safety of our personnel was paramount and that it would be the best safety practice."

Canton's medic units have worn vests during certain calls for the last two years.

"To my knowledge, I don't know if anyone has had their life saved (by the vests), but we didn't want to be the first ones to find out," he said.

Whitlatch said that in some cases, uniformed firefighters are mistaken for police officers, which places even more importance on the need for the vests.

"The cops are showing up with vests and we aren't wearing anything," Whitlatch, who himself has been on calls in the past where shots were fired, said.

The department is not planning on requiring the vests for all responses such as fire calls. It is, however requiring them for shooting, stabbing altercations and domestic violence calls.

"We're of course not going to tell anyone they can't wear them," he said, noting that there are already some members of the medic unit who never take them off. "Our economic situation -- the way it is -- it's getting rough out there."