‘Invest in a Vest’ fundraiser gears up first responders.

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EXETER BOROUGH, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The job of a first responder is changing.

It’s always been dangerous but now many are having to use ballistic vests when responding to an emergency. They cost a lot of money, but a fundraiser Thursday night may help fill the need for the protective gear.

The Wyoming Area Kiwanis Club has been plugging away in recent months to meet that growing need of protecting emergency personnel. Thursday night’s Invest in a Vest fundraiser is the crown jewel in that effort where the community could come out and give their support.

Food, drinks, music and fun — all for a cause at Sabatini’s in Exeter and all in the name of ‘Invest in a Vest.’ It’s a program that raises money for ballistic vests for first responders, a growing trend in emergency services.

“It’s certainly not something that was on our mind 10 or 15 years ago,” said Pittston City councilman and Greater Pittston Regional EMT Michael Lombardo. “Now, in terms of the way that society has changed and the unfortunate events that we see on the news on a daily basis, there’s things that we need to be prepared for.”

Helping them prepare is the Wyoming Area Kiwanis Club and their Invest in a Vest program. Board member and program co-chair Michael Coolbaugh tells Eyewitness News the idea came about with children’s safety in mind.

“We’re raising money to purchase rifle-plated vests for the police departments, fire departments and ambulance units that service the Wyoming Area School District,” said Coolbaugh.

Greater Pittston Regional Ambluance Chief Ed Szafran said the community’s response couldn’t be better.

“Some businesses and individual donors have really stepped up for the Kiwanis Club and the first responders in the law enforcement and medical community,” he noted.

Some of those donors have personal ties to the cause, like Barbara Velazquez. Her father, Joseph Coyne, was a former first responder and mayor of Exeter.

“I donated a vest in honor of him,” she said. “The Coyne, Velazquez and Coleman family. We donated a vest in honor of my father.”

Members of the Kiwanis Club and first responder community tell Eyewitness News that before this event they already had enough money to funds raised to get 61 out of the 70 vests, so what happens when they go over?

“I’ve already reached out to the police departments and other volunteer organizations to help us and go over to the Pittston Area side where we would look at getting vests for at least the police departments, to start with,” said Coolbaugh.

The Invest in a Vest program has been so successful for Wyoming Area that Coolbaugh tells Eyewitness News his phone is ringing off the hook with other Kiwanis Clubs from New Jersey to Ohio looking for pointers on running their own.

For more on protecting first responders, check out Eyewitness News reporter Kevin Hayes’ in-depth Digital Exclusives.

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