Firefighters get ballistic vests for high-risk calls
Call it a sign of the times, but two Washington County fire departments have seen the need to purchase ballistic vests for firefighters responding to high-risk calls.Both Mark Grimm, North Strabane Township fire chief, and Ron Sicchitano Jr., assistant Bentleyville fire chief, said it is unfortunately a trend across the country that firefighters could face gunfire when answering either a fire or ambulance call.North Strabane recently purchased a dozen vests for the department’s career firefighters at a cost of $700 each. Grimm said they plan to buy four more for volunteer firefighters who are part of the duty shift program. Bentleyville received a grant to purchase four vests, also equipped to carry some medical equipment such as tourniquets, at a cost of $800 each, with plans to purchase more. Sicchitano said several firefighters purchased their own vests.“We recognize a potential incident could occur involving an active shooter,” Sicchitano said. “We want to provide protection for the firefighter entering what we call a ‘warm zone,’ where there is a threat of gunfire but still an ability to get in and take care of a casualty.“Given what has happened across the nation, getting these vests became more important,” he added.Grimm said his firefighters also respond to medical calls.“As first responders, we have had incidents where the threat was there, but fortunately nothing happened,” Grimm said. “Unfortunately, we have to be prepared. If we are put in a sticky situation, we have to be proactive and have the best protection for our firefighters.“Grimm said firefighters will don the vests when answering a call with police where there is a imminent threat. They also can be worn at other times, if a firefighter feels the need.“If there is a prior history at a residence, they can use common sense if they feel the need to wear a vest,” Grimm said.Sicchitano said his department has a protocol for when the vest should be worn. He said the fire department, which also covers West Pike Run Township, has adopted a rescue task force concept in working with police and emergency medical personnel to enter a secured area during incidents such as a SWAT situation.North Strabane recently hosted a tactical casualty training program that dealt with treating victims in a warm zone through the North Hills Regional SWAT team. Grimm said the class included going over how to approach a room and clearing a large area.“If we are ever put in such a situation, like with an active shooter at a school, we have a better understanding of what to do,” Grimm said.