Firefighters would never go into a burning building without wearing their protective turnout gear, but a St. Paul deputy fire chief says most of them don’t have a key piece of equipment for other emergencies — a bullet-resistant vest.
Ken Adams, who supervises the department’s emergency medical services, and others are working to change that in St. Paul by partnering with a nonprofit organization that raises funds for ballistic vests for first responders.
It’s a national standard that firefighters and emergency medical crews responding to an active-shooter situation wear bullet-proof vests, Adams said, and he thinks they’re needed for every day work.
“We have a lot of situations of someone calling 911 and saying, ‘I need an ambulance’ and hanging up,” he said. “Our crews are going into something totally blind … and you just never know what the situation is going to be.”
A St. Paul firefighter heard from a police officer about SHIELD616, a non-profit founded by Jake Skifstad in Colorado, and the St. Paul Fire Foundation recently paired up with the organization.
Skifstad is originally from International Falls, Minn., and was previously a Colorado Springs officer. He named his group for Ephesians 6:16, the Bible passage that refers to, “Take up the shield of faith.”
People or businesses can donate money for a vest for a specific firefighter. If they don’t have a firefighter in mind, SHIELD616 helps them find the station closest to them and the funds are used for gear for a firefighter at that location.
“It’s not just not going out and saying, ‘Company A and Company B, we want money for this vest,’” Adams said. “Instead, it’s ‘We’re going to give this vest to this individual and you two will be linked forever.’”
The gear is $2,200 per firefighter — a bullet-resistant helmet, plus a vest that includes ballistic plates to protect from rifle fire. Equipment for one firefighter can be funded from various smaller donations.
As a SWAT medic, Adams and his crew of about a dozen firefighters have tactical gear, but there are an additional 450 firefighters who don’t. They are aiming to outfit firefighters incrementally, as funding is in place.
Some donations have already come in and the St. Paul Fire Foundation plans to direct a portion of the funds raised at an Oct. 1 golf tournament to the effort, while other fundraising from the event will go to firefighter wellness initiatives.
HOW TO HELP
People can contribute to a ballistic vest for a St. Paul firefighter at shield616.org/firefighter.
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