PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - Our Tampa Bay area first responders are now better prepared to handle a mass shooting like the one in Las Vegas.
Every fire station in Pinellas County recently added crucial equipment that will allow firefighters to go behind police lines and get to you in the most dangerous moments.
On every medic truck in Pinellas County you’ll find ballistic vests and helmets to protect our brave first responders like Lealman Firefighter Ryan Cotton. “We want to protect people, always. It’s just innate within each one of us. Thinking of others first before ourselves,” he explained.
It’s the reason Cotton chose to become a firefighter, despite the danger. “I love what I’d do and I would be there for anybody at any point in time, but at the end of the day I do want to go home to my family and kids.”
Bulletproof vests and helmets aren’t typically part of a firefighter’s uniform, but the Pulse Nightclub shooting changed that, and the Las Vegas shooting confirmed the need for them.
County leaders bought 484 sets of vests and helmets shortly after the Pulse shooting. The equipment doesn’t just keep first responders safe, but helps them go where they’ve never gone before: Behind police lines.
Richard Graham, the Lealman Fire Chief explains, “We talk about the golden hour for heart attacks. In a mass shooting, you have minutes when people are shot before they bleed out.”
In the past, firefighters would have to stay back in mass shootings until officers cleared the scene…even if it took hours!
Now, Pinellas County has a mass shooting plan that uses zones. A “hot zone” is where the gunman is actively shooting.
A “cold zone” is a block away in a safe spot. Firefighters can now go into a “warm zone.” It’s still dangerous, but with the extra protection, helps them get to you much faster.
Firefighters aren’t the only ones upgrading their equipment. Every officer in St Petersburg’s Police Department now wears a bulletproof vest strong enough to take bullets from an assault rifle. The department bought the vests this past April. “Having the ability to stop rifle rounds in this day and age was just something we had to embrace,” explained Michael Kovacsev, the assistant police chief.
The equipment is helping to protect the brave men and women we rely on to protect us. “You hope you never have to use it but in the case you do, we’re ready and willing,” explained Cotton.
Pinellas County also has 60 tactical medics, who train specifically with police officers to enter dangerous situations. In Hillsborough County, some but not all first responders have tactical gear strong enough to withstand assault rifles, and not all fire stations are equipped with ballistic vests and helmets. The biggest factor? Cost. It can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip a department.