Firefighters outfitted with bulletproof vests - CBS46 News

Firefighters preparing for worst-case scenario outfitted with bulletproof vests

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LILBURN, GA (CBS46) -

Mass shootings like the one in Newtown, CT, at Sandy Hook Elementary and at the movie theater in Aurora, CO, are changing how firefighters are responding to calls.

"It is frustrating when you know there are victims who are inside who need care," said Capt. Tommy Rutledge with Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services. "But we also understand that law enforcement has to clear that building for our safety."

That's why nearly 300 firefighters are getting bulletproof vests. It's one of the first fire departments in Georgia to use body armor and quick deploy trauma kits.

The vests will not be worn when they fight fires. Instead it will be used when they respond to assist police at a SWAT standoff, shooting, stabbing or other violent situation, and in the worst case scenario, a mass casualty incident.

"In a mass casualty incident, we'll be able to wear the vest, go in with teams of law enforcement, as they're clearing the building, we can be removing patients and giving rapid treatment and assessment," said Rutledge.

This turns the firefighter into a field medic on the front line and potentially in danger.

"They know that what they do is dangerous, this is an element that they understand that time is of the essence in a medical emergency, especially trauma, they know that they are working against the golden hour to get that patient treatment and transport to an emergency department," said Rutledge.

Delivering that treatment comes in the form of a new quick deploy trauma kit. It has everything they need to slow blood loss, or even close a gunshot wound.

This kind of change in response requires retraining of police and fire, which will be going on all summer at a local high school, so that when the call comes in, they will be able to respond with the kind of proficiency they are known for.

Even though they may never have to respond to a mass casualty incident, firefighters believe the $344,000 price tag is worth it because if they have to wear it just once and that one time it saves a life, it will have paid for itself.

Still, we had some questions:

Will the vests hinder their range of motion?

"Just like our turnout gear, we know that there is a degree of dexterity that is effected, but it should not cause these firefighters any disruption in performing their duties," said Rutledge.

What if they are responding to a mundane medical call like the firefighters who were taken hostage last year?

"There was no indication that this was anything different than any other medical emergency, so they may not have had those vests on. They may not have done them any good even if they were on the apparatus for that particular call," said Rutledge.

Do you have a plan for when the body armor expires?

"That's something that the people who are ordering these vests, I'm sure are reading those details and making sure we have a policy in place to not only say when we would and would not wear them, but how we're going to care for them, and how we're going to replace them, and it's something we are going to carry on the apparatus for some time to come," said Rutledge

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