Fire department west of the Twin Cities hopes to buy body armor in wake of Burnsville tragedy

Rockford Fire Department considers protective vests for firefighters in wake of Burnsville tragedy

Rockford Fire Department considers protective vests for firefighters in wake of Burnsville tragedy

It’s a night of routine maintenance at the Rockford Fire Department — that is, until the next emergency call.

“Some of the medical calls we go on, they can be domestics, or they can be drug overdoses,” explains Rockford Fire Chief David Angell. “You never really know what’s going to happen in that.”

Angell says his 25-member department can get busy, going on about 500 runs a year, 90% of them medical calls.

“It’s all a part of never knowing,” says Domanick Lark, the department’s assistant fire chief. “Sometimes we hear certain calls. They come through our pagers and our radios and you second guess because you’re not sure of the situation until you get on scene.”

But after the shooting deaths of three Burnsville first responders in February, members here began thinking about safety and protection on the job.

“You see a couple of officers and of course, a firefighter, and it really hits home,” Lark says. “You don’t know, that could be us on that scene, and something could happen.”

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Now, the department is launching a crowdfunding effort to raise $10,000 to buy 10 bulletproof vests from a Florida company.

“They’re like a soft-shell, bulletproof ballistics vest is what it is. What police would be wearing,” Lark says.

The vests would include an insertable rifle plate meant to protect the wearer from rifle rounds.

Rockford is joining other departments, like Brooklyn Park, which has used them since 2020.

Albertville began using ballistic vests after a first responder had an unusual encounter.

“He was met in the backyard by the homeowner who had a handgun,” says Albertville Fire Chief Eric Bullen.

Angell says at some calls, his members are the first on scene. If there’s potential trouble, they typically wait until a deputy arrives.

“I’ve been on a couple of scenes that were kind of hostile,” Lark notes. “I was at one scene several years back, a guy downtown here, there was a weapon involved.”

The vests will only be worn by first responders answering medical calls.

They would not fit properly under a firefighter’s heavy protective clothing.  

The chief says the tragedy in Burnsville has left a deep impression.

“A lot of our members were worried a lot after that, and they had asked for vests, and I agreed with them,” he says. “I’m not going to deny them a safety item if they want.”

The department met Thursday with representatives from the body armor company.

Chief Angell says he hopes to order the vests as soon as they’ve raised enough money.

“If guys are able to grab a vest, I think they will have that reassurance, just in case something does happen,” Lark says. “They have some protection. Better to have it than not have it.”