Ballistic vests added to Scranton Fire Department gear

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Many police officers in our region use a ballistic vest when responding to calls, but what about firefighters? The Scranton Fire Department issued dozens of vests Tuesday for its workers.

Many people wonder why a bulletproof vest belongs in a fire department. However, along with police, fire and EMS are also called to stand-offs. From ladders to hoses a fire truck stores a variety of equipment. Scranton fire chief Pat Desarno and mayor Wayne Evans issued a new item to the list: ballistic vests.

“It’s a sad state of our society today where active shootings and active shooters happen,” Desarno said.

Fire departments across the state and country respond to stand-offs with hardly any protection. On Washburn Street in April 2018, Scranton police responded to an active shooter who fired shots at police before setting the house on fire. Scranton firefighters had to position themselves to fight the fire and protect themselves from possible shots coming from the home. Two bodies were recovered from the rubble.

“With police escort, that was insane you know, and trying to keep our driver safe,” Desarno said.

To see how the vest fits, Eyewitness News reporter Cody Butler gave it a try. They weigh about 30 to 40 pounds each and it takes two people to put it on. For about $600 each, the city purchased 28 of them with money from the state fire commissioner’s grant. Each of the fire trucks in the department will have at least four on board.

“We’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. We can respond to almost any situation and now respond in this fashion and be prepared for it,” Evans said.

While police are the first to respond to an active shooter situation, firefighters remain on scene until the threat has diminished before they help victims and assist EMS.

“Whether they need to be treated and then escorted out and carried out, that’s what we do. We go in as a time of police and EMS,” Desarno said.

“I hope it never even happens, but if it does, we are prepared for it. I don’t see an uptick in this type of situation in Scranton but obviously in the country we see it almost every day,” Evans said.

Desarno says firefighters will put vests on at the police staging area if called to an active shooting situation. At that point, they will be directed by police. As for the vests, they expire after five years and will need to be replaced.

The Scranton Fire Department is waiting for approval on a federal grant to purchase 35 more ballistic vests and 35 ballistic helmets. In order to stay ahead of the expiration dates, the department hopes they can secure funding to purchase new vests every three years.

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