The Austin Fire Department in Texas is considering buying bulletproof vests for its first responders after a new federal report said emergency medical personnel should be ready to go in and treat the wounded even in situations that are still potentially dangerous.
Emergency responders gather around the finish line of the Boston Marathon following twin bomb explosions, April 15, 2013. (AP/Winslow Townson)
Guidelines on mass casualty incidents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency say emergency medical personnel should be prepared to go into "warm zones" -- areas not yet secured, where there still could be a gunman on the loose -- in order to provide fast care. The FEMA report, released in September, said trained medical tactical teams wearing ballistic protective equipment should go in with law enforcement to quickly treat, stabilize and evacuate victims during an emergency situation.
“There's always an inherent amount of risk going into those scenes, you know, and when you're not protected with the best safety equipment out there, that risk kind of goes up,” Randy Denzer with the Austin Firefighters Association told Austin's KVUE-TV.
No formal decision has been made in Austin; a fire department spokesman told KVUE they are considering financing options for the vests, which can run between $300 and $3,000.
Officials who studied the Boston Marathon bombings and mass shootings like at Sandy Hook Elementary agree that "aggressive" medical responses, like sending in paramedics with police, can be critical in saving lives, The New York Times reported.
“The Austin Firefighters Association is all for changing those protocols just like the Obama administration is now asking us to do. We're all for it. The one thing we're also for though is we want to make sure that if there's any safety equipment that can help us do our job better, help us get to the patients sooner than that's all worth looking into very well,” Denzer told KVUE.
Paramedics with Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services have had bulletproof vests for the last decade.
"What we're trying to teach people now is to push forward, even though the scene may not be totally secure," Captain Matt Clark told KTBC-TV. "If there's a section that is secure then we'll start sending medics, start sending firefighters in to start evacuating and start treating immediately the wounded and so hopefully they'll have better outcomes in the end."
Austin-Travis County EMS Commander Jonathan Mudge told KVUE he last wore his vest on a call several months ago.
"At the end of the day, our goal is to go home to our families and keep serving our community,” Mudge said.