Even before the murder in December of two Monroe County firefighters and last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, Community Emergency Corps officials were thinking about buying body armor because of some of the situations that arise in and around Ballston Spa.
“We’re dealing with a lot more violent calls than we used to,” said Ray Otten, the corps’ executive director.
Just about a year after launching a campaign to get bulletproof vests, the corps has taken delivery.
Sixteen Kevlar-mesh vests went into service on the corps’ three ambulances this week, making the corps one of the first in the region to provide body armor to its emergency medical personnel.
But, given recent national events, it’s unlikely it will be the last. The sense of threat felt by firefighters and medical responders is definitely higher.
Saratoga County Fire Coordinator Ed Tremblay said he doesn’t know of any other departments seriously pursuing vests, but it’s become common for first responders to wait for police before approaching a situation.
“I don’t know if there’s more weird or violent calls so much as there’s more awareness that calls you think are routine can turn out to be something else,” he said.
James Coats, CEO of Phalanx Defense Systems, the Florida company that sold the vests to the ambulance corps, said this is the first time he’s sold them to an ambulance corps, but he doesn’t think it will be the last.
“Our phone is ringing off the hook, and our inbox is filling up,” he said.
Phalanx usually sells its military-style vests to law enforcement special operations units, he said. They are based on military vest technology that spreads the force of an impact throughout the vest.
Each vest costs about $450 and weighs about 12 pounds, Coats said. Phalanx donated some of the vests; the rest were purchased with a private donation from the estate of Mary Laspisa of Clifton Park, a founding member of the corps in 1966.
The donation came a couple of months ago, after the corps has already started approaching the communities it serves, the village of Ballston Spa and the towns of Milton and Ballston, about funding for the purchases. None immediately offered money.
“We’re thankful for the donation,” said Ballston town Supervisor Patti Southworth. “I think anything we can do to increase the safety of the first responders, that’s something we should do.”
Community Emergency Corps, which relies on about 40 paid paramedics and emergency medical technicians, as well as some volunteers, responds to about 2,300 calls each year. The call volume has grown over the years as the area’s population has grown, Otten said, and because of the arrival of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta. The corps’ coverage area also includes the Kesselring naval nuclear training base in West Milton.
Corps Assistant Captain Timothy Thomas said Thursday morning that members went to the sheriff’s shooting range in Milton and fired a 12-gauge shotgun and other weapons at samples of the vest material, “and there’s no penetration.”
He said he’s pleased the corps has bought the vests, given the trends he’s seen. Thomas said that over the six years he’s been a member, there’s been a trend toward responding to more mental health, drug abuse and domestic violence calls than in the past — and there have been times when responding medical personnel were attacked by patients.
“The occasional call is becoming more common,” Thomas said. “There are more agitated-individual calls, more domestic calls. Calls for aggressive behavior are becoming more common.”
“The world’s getting crazier and crazier, and we have to deal with that,” said Bill Sims, a paramedic who has been going on emergency calls for 15 years. “We’re glad they’re keeping our safety in mind.”
Otten said the vests also will provide protection against stab wounds, a concern given the number of mental health transportation calls that come in.
He said the vests add another layer of protection to equipment that already includes helmets and insoluble coats that protect against exposure to bodily fluids.
“We’re not looking for responders to become John Wayne, but when they’re going out, they need to be protected,” Otten said.