Updated: June 30, 2021 06:47 PM
Created: June 30, 2021 06:34 PM
Firefighters in St. Paul will start wearing bulletproof vests and helmets on some emergency calls.
Shield616, the nonprofit that provided the new ballistic gear, said St. Paul Fire Department is the first in the state to use them.
St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief of EMS Kenneth Adams said it will be an extra layer of protection in a job that has become increasingly unpredictable.
"Twenty years ago we worried about having the best turnout gear and the best air packs, and nowadays we're having to worry about, 'Are we going to get shot?'" Adams said.
Adams said they started exploring the idea of body armor for firefighters several years ago as active shooter situations started to increase across the country.
Firefighters are often on the front lines of those types of medical calls, providing critical care to victims.
"During an active shooter situation, we're always right there," Adams said. "Fire crews would just be going in with the protection of a police officer in front of them and a police officer in back of them. But it would devastate us if one of our firefighters got hurt trying to protect somebody and they didn’t have the proper protection."
Firefighters also responded during the riots in the Twin Cities last summer in the wake of George Floyd's death. Police typically have tactical gear in those situations, but firefighters do not.
"Some of the situations, the crowds would become more agitated and they would take anger out on whomever. You never know who is out there, if they have a weapon and when they decide to use it," Adams said. "You do what you have to do but at the end of it, you really wish you had more protection."
Shield616 is based in Colorado but founded by Minnesota-native Jake Skifstad.
While working as a police officer, Skifstad responded to two active shooter scenes and saw firsthand the need for extra protective gear.
He initially started Shield616 with police officers in mind but has since expanded to include firefighters and paramedics.
He showed 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the Angel Armor plates that slip inside kevlar vests.
"This vest by itself will stop handgun calibers but what the Angel Armor does, this is the stuff that's going to stop the rifle-rated caliber. It goes in the front and back of the vest," Skifstad said. "Our goal is to protect the vitals and so they're not only going to be able to have a vest with rifle-rated armor on there but they're also going to have a ballistic helmet."
The Angel Armor inserts weigh less than two pounds each.
Adams said crews will not typically wear them out at fires but will have them ready for other calls where there is an element of danger.
"We did over 40,000 EMS calls in the city of St. Paul last year and every one of those has potential because you don't 100% know what you're going into," Adams said.
Of the 435 firefighters in St. Paul, 33 received the new ballistic gear Wednesday night.
They cost about $80,000, which all came from donations in coordination with the St. Paul Fire Foundation. Adams said firefighter families, local businesses and community members raised the money.
"The goal is not to stop until every firefighter has a vest," Adams said.
If you would like to help raise money for other St. Paul firefighters to receive gear, click here and in the "Designation" drop-down menu, select "Minnesota - St. Paul Fire Department."
"Our first responders are true heroes and that's why we want to make sure they got the best protection out there to make sure they can come home at the end of their shift and go home safe to their families,” Skifstad said.
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