Fairfield Fire Department adds bulletproof vests to safety equipment

Fairfield Fire Department adds bulletproof vests to safety equipment
Firefighters at a plastics factory blaze in Fairfield, Calif., in 2011. (Joel Rosenbaum / Associated Press)

Firefighters today have a large inventory of safety equipment. But one Northern California city is adding another: bulletproof vests. Fairfield is joining a growing number of fire departments in giving more protection to firefighters as their role in handling shooting incidents increases.

Q: What is Fairfield doing?


Firefighters will soon begin wearing bulletproof vests on calls in which first responders are at risk during shootings and other dangerous situations. Crews are expected to begin wearing the vests 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 said. "For sure during any stabbing, shooting or call.... Where anyone's indicated they want to hurt themselves."

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

Q: What's behind the idea?

Fire Department commanders began considering buying vests after seeing firefighters put in harm's way during violent protests 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."

"We started off last year with some shootings and there was a lot of shootings in a short time," added City Councilwoman Catherine Moy. "They're first responders, and it's something that's way overdue."

Q: How common is it for firefighters to wear bulletproof vests?

Mass shootings in recent years have revived debate on the issue. The Federal Emergency Management Agency last year issued recommendations calling on fire department medics, working with police, to enter "warm zones" — areas near shooters where a threat might exist — before the attackers have been contained.

The Times reported last year that in the wake of the 2011 Seal Beach salon massacre that killed eight people, the Orange County Fire Authority trained firefighters to wear ballistic vests when dealing with such situations.

Last year's shooting at LAX that killed a TSA worker prompted Los Angeles Fire Department officials to change policies so that firefighters can get to victims of mass shootings more quickly. Under the new procedures, fire personnel, protected by armed law enforcement teams, will enter potentially dangerous areas during shooting incidents to treat victims and get them to hospital trauma centers, The Times reported.