Fire Department in Melrose vests in crew’s safety

The Melrose Volunteer Fire Department recently purchased ballistic vests for crew members, making it the first fire department in the county to do so. 

The four 25-pound vests were put in service Friday as the department unveiled them via social media. They were purchased from an online vendor using a $15,000 grant received in May from Clay Electric’s Operation Round Up program.

Covert Armor, the vendor, sells protective gear to security personnel and emergency service agencies.

The rest of the grant money went toward other safety equipment the fire department needed, like a fire hose, defibrillators and new tires for its fire engines. But the vests were included on the agency’s wish list as a response to what they perceive as a recent spate of violence against firefighters nationwide.

One case, spokesman and lead firefighter Marc McCullough said, is that of Mitch Lundgaard, an Appleton, Wis., firefighter who was shot and killed last month while attempting to treat a man who had overdosed on morphine pills.

“You’ve always got the possibility of something happening, so that’s why we have these,” McCullough said. “It’s another tool in our toolbox to keep people safe.”

Putting the vests in service for its firefighters made Melrose Volunteer Fire Department the first in the county to do so, county Emergency Services Chief Quin Romay said. 

While it will mirror procedures used by Alachua County Fire Rescue when using the vests, it’s not entirely clear when Melrose firefighters will be allowed to use them. McCullough did not return requests for details on its procedures by press time Friday.

Alachua County, which purchased more than 70 ballistic vests since its firefighters began using them in December 2018, currently uses them as protection in scenarios involving an active shooter.

In Putnam County there have only been five attacks on firefighters or EMTs since 2011, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said. And in 2017, the county saw a nearly 18% drop in crime from the previous year, including violent offenses, according to the latest state uniform crime report for which annual data is available.

“Generally, what would happen is a paramedic would get attacked in an ambulance by someone who is being combative while getting treated,” spokeswoman Allison Waters-Merritt said.

There haven’t been many discussions about possibly expanding the use of body armor to other local fire departments, Romay said. 

That is a decision to be made by the individual departments, who he said rarely go into scenes to perform its duties or administer care before it’s been cleared by law enforcement.

“Safety equipment is always a consideration, but ensuring you have the proper fire equipment like hoses and fire gear is typically a higher priority,” Romay said.

Palatka Daily News

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