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Schenectady firefighters get bulletproof vests

Schenectady firefighters get bulletproof vests

The department received bulletproof vests and helmets earlier this week
Schenectady firefighters get bulletproof vests
Schenectady firefighter Lt. Vinnie Verret tries on newly issued body armor.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Firefighters might soon be spotted wearing bulletproof vests, after the city department received a shipment of them earlier this week.

Assistant Fire Chief Michael Gillespie said the department now has 45 bulletproof vests and helmets. He said the equipment cost approximately $45,000.

The department researched several vendors over an eight-month period. Gillespie said they were able to make some room in the budget this year to purchase the vests and helmets and purchased them through a state contract.

The equipment will be shared among the 124 firefighters in the department, Gillespie said, adding that the vests are considered to be “one size fits most.”

That allows firefighters to make sure a vest is sized properly at the start of his or her shift, so there aren’t any adjustments needed in the field.

Firefighters typically will assist police at shooting or domestic violence scenes. Gillespie said in such cases, firefighters will hang back until the scene is cleared by the police. But there are situations in which firefighters have to prepare for the unexpected.

Gillespie cited a shooting incident on Union Street in July, after which 47-year-old Dushawn Howard was charged with shooting his girlfriend and two of her children.

Howard led police on a chase after the shooting, only to be apprehended in a home on Summit Avenue. He was indicted in October on 20 charges, including four counts of second-degree attempted murder.

Gillespie said if similar incidents arise, firefighters will now be putting on the vests as they respond to help victims, just to be safe.

“Unfortunately, with a call like the one on Union Street -- where there were a lot of unknowns -- there was not a designated perimeter,” Gillespie said. “Sometimes, you find yourself where you don’t know if it’s secure or not, or you’re responding to a call where it’s a domestic (violence incident), and something unforeseen happens. It’s a precaution.”

Protocols for use of the vests have been established. One of the rules is that firefighters will never wear them along with firefighting gear. Gillespie said if firefighters are ever in danger of being shot at when called to fight a fire, that is a fire they won’t be fighting.

“We never want to leave our people with the impression they would be fighting a fire while in danger of being shot,” Gillespie said. “We will stay in a safe area.”

Gillespie couldn’t recall an incident in which city firefighters have been shot at. But he said they have responded medical calls when they were met by someone holding a gun.

Gillespie said the city isn’t any more dangerous than other municipalities, but he they want to be prepared for the worst.

“It could happen any time, anywhere with any person,” he said.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said that, while active-shooter situations are unlikely in the city, they have been happening at a more frequent rate nationwide. 

“It’s the type of purchase that I would prefer not to make,” he said. “But it’s reflective of the times that we live in.”

City Councilman John Mootooveren, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, also said he supports the purchase by the Fire Department.

“I welcome it,” he said.

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