East Pierce firefighters to be equipped with body armor

East Pierce Fire & rescue commissioners have decided to purchase body armor for its crews. (Photo: KOMO News)

EDGEWOOD, Wash. - Turns out that burning buildings aren't the only dangers local firefighters face. On Tuesday night, a Pierce County fire agency pulled the trigger on purchasing body armor for its crews.

The vests can adjust to different body types and are built to stop a rifle round fired into the chest. However, it's a level of protection many people don't associate with firefighting.

“It's the new reality,” said Chief Bud Backer, with East Pierce Fire & Rescue.

Pierce County recently adopted new protocols for active shooter incidents. According to Backer, crimes like the Cascade Mall shooting in Burlington last September, or the murder-suicide at a San Bernardino school last week, show that firefighters can't always wait for police to secure a scene before they go in to treat the wounded.

“For people that have family members that may have been shot in a shooting, and we're able to go into the ‘warm zone’ and start treatment and saving lives, that's what it's about," Backer said.

On Tuesday night, commissioners with East Pierce Fire & Rescue heard a final presentation on the need for ballistic vests and helmets. They voted unanimously to spend $76,000 to purchase 32 sets of helmets and vests.

Neighboring West Pierce Fire & Rescue already trains with body armor, as does the Tacoma Fire Department. However, the cities of Seattle and Everett have yet to follow suit.

Some balk at the cost and how infrequently the gear will be used.

Backer said his crews don't need ladder trucks that often to save people from structure fires, “but when we do and that person is wanting rescue, they're pretty happy we've got that equipment."

Once East Pierce cuts the check, the equipment is expected to arrive within 30 to 60 days.

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