EMS personnelCritics question the need to equip EMS personnel with protective gear

Published 28 August 2015

The longer a wounded victim on a scene of a crime must wait for medical treatment, the lower the likelihood of that victim’s survival. Medical personal, however, must wait until the police secure the scene before they are allowed to approach the wounded. More and more EMS units now carry Kevlar helmets and bullet-proof vests with them so they can rush to help the wounded even if the crime scene is not completely secured. Some residents of San Leandro, California say, however, that the decision by the city council to purchase an armored vehicle and convert it into an armored ambulance is going too far.

There is a certain familiarity with the image of police officers in body armor and Kevlar helmets, preparing to take control of a location where an active shooter is present, or where civilians have been taken hostage. That image, however, typically does not include the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel standing to the side.

These men and women always respond to an emergency situation, arriving with police and firefighters. Usually, they are told to stay to the side and wait until the area has been secured.

The simple fact is, however, that the longer a victim waits to be treated, the lower the likelihood of that victim’s survival.

Police have been forced to adjust to the increased firepower and lethality of criminals’ weaponry, adopting high power weapons and tactical methods. The necessity for increased protection has made its way to EMS, and not without controversy.

Though slow, change in attitude has been advancing even into small cities and towns.

The Union Leader reports that in Goffstown, New Hampshire, Fire Chief Richard O’Brien purchased $11,000 of protective equipment for his EMS crews.

Now, a pair of Kevlar helmets and ballistic vests will ride along with other gear in two separate ambulances, available to help medical personnel get inside a shooting scene sooner to treat the wounded.

The state this month is conducting its first joint training session with police and emergency medical services crews, involving handling an active shooting scene and treating victims more quickly.

Emily Martuscello, an exercise training officer with New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told the Union Leader that, “It goes over law enforcement tactics and the response to a shooter, as well as a new concept that is a best practice of what we call warm zone EMS, which is law enforcement securing the area in a building and allowing EMS to get into a building to treat patients quicker than waiting to search the whole building and deem the whole thing clear.”

Weighing about forty pounds, the armor is capable of stopping rounds from handguns, nearly all rifle rounds, and all armor-piercing rounds, so EMS personnel are well protected.

While EMS crews throughout the country have adopted body armor in one form or another, some jurisdictions have taken protection to the next level.

Earlier this year, the city council of San Leandro, California, held a special meeting to allow residents to express their views regarding the city’s plan to purchase a medevac vehicle, in essence an armored vehicle generally used by police tactical teams. The difference is that the interior of the vehicle is fitted out as an ambulance rather than an assault vehicle.

As reported byabc7news.com, many of the residents were opposed to the purchase of the vehicle.

The city’s police department said they had borrowed the medevac nine times in the preceding two years. Their position was opposed by residents referring to the vehicle as a “tank.” Those criticizing the police maintain that the medevac could be put to more sinister use, and they join many others who express concern about the “militarization” of police forces throughout the country.