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Another California city opts for bulletproof vests for firefighters

Northern California city's firefighters to be outfitted in bulletproof vests for dangerous calls

They’ve been prepared to work in commercial fire, house fire and car fire. Within the next few weeks, firefighting crews in Fairfield, Calif., can add a new category to that list — gunfire.

In what Fairfield Fire Department officials say is a response to recent events across the country, firefighters in the Northern California city will soon begin wearing bulletproof vests on certain types of calls in which first responders are at risk of being harmed through physical violence, such as active shooter situations.

After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, several cities including Monrovia, Downey and Santa Ana purchased vests for their firefighters. L.A. city firefighters also have access to bulletproof vests.

Fairfield crews are expected to begin wearing the vests in the field within the next four weeks, as soon as a department policy is in place for their use, said Battalion Chief Matt Luckenbach.

“We’re not going to have to use them very often,” Luckenbach told The Times. “For sure during any stabbing, shooting or call asking us to stage. Where anyone’s indicated they want to hurt themselves.”

The City Council approved their purchase in August for $20,000, according to city documents. Luckenbach said the department purchased up to 45 vests -- enough to outfit almost every firefighter.

Fairfield’s vests weigh up to 30 pounds and won’t be worn with the turnouts crews wear to battle blazes, Luckenbach added.

“We started off last year with some shootings and there was a lot of shootings in a short time,” said City Councilwoman Catherine Moy. “They’re first reponders and it’s something that’s way overdue.”

The only Fairfield officer killed in the line of duty was shot 30 years ago and was pulled out of harm’s way by firefighters who used their truck to shield the officer from gunfire, KTXL-TV reported.

Fire Department commanders began considering buying vests after seeing firefighters put in harm’s way during active-shooter and violent protest situations across the country, Luckenbach said.

“Our role has increased significantly into scenes that are ‘secure,’” Luckenbach said. “When law enforcement goes in … nowadays it’s kind of working right on their heels.”

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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