Firefighters in Pinellas County are adding another job to their resume, go into areas where there could be an active shooter and save lives.
Clearwater firefighters will be getting bulletproof vests in all of their vehicles. It is a part of a countywide initiative in Pinellas.
“Obviously things are changing for us everyday, you read the news and Google firefighters and gun shots you'll see a plethora come up,” Lt. Chris Hoyne said.
Hoyne is one of 50 tactical medics in Pinellas County that already wears bulletproof vests and responds with law enforcement in “hot” zones. The firefighters that are not on the tactical team are not required to wear the vests and go into what they are calling a “warm” zone.
“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of volunteers,” Hoyne said. “We are going to call it a warm zone. So, if there's an active shooter the police department will have to clear the whole building. If we have a bunch of patients in an area such as the food court in the mall maybe and the bad guys are eliminated or barricaded somewhere different, we’ll have officers escort our paramedics and EMT’s into that warm zone.”
Firefighters will still wait for law enforcement before going into an area with an active shooter. And, depending on the type of call they are responding to, will make their own decisions about whether they will wear the vests.
“It is a risk that we haven't previously taken in the fire service, but it's one that needs to be taken so we can get to our citizens,” Hoyne said. “If somebody gets shot in the femoral artery a large artery in your leg you can bleed to death in 3 minutes we need to get their fast.”
Hoyne said the need for bulletproof vests is a sad reality.
In 2012, a man ambushed and killed two firefighters responding to a call in Webster, NY. In Suwanee, Georgia a suburb north of Atlanta five Gwinnett County firefighters were taken hostage by a gunman who initially called in a medical emergency. He was faking a heart attack.
Following the Pulse terror attack in Orlando, Orange County officials also decided to give all of their firsts responders bulletproof vests. So far, Pinellas is the first Tampa Bay area county to make this a requirement.