South Hadley Fire District 1 buys six bulletproof vests

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2018 12:41:28 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — Fire District No. 1 recently purchased six ballistic vests, to be kept in three of the department’s ambulances in case of an emergency or active shooter scenario.

“We’re just being proactive,” Fire District No. 1 Chief Robert Authier said. “God forbid we have the type of event where we would use them.”

After attending a two-day Department of Homeland Security training last June, the department began researching bulletproof vests for sale. The training focused on “warm zones,” meaning areas just outside an active violent situation, secured by police, where firefighters might have to enter to rescue victims.

In the event of an active shooter or other life-threatening situation, firefighters, who often dually serve as paramedics, put themselves in danger responding to incidents just as police do. After South Hadley Officer Christopher Roberts was stabbed in the neck in March 2016, safety has been on the forefront of South Hadley first responders’ minds.

“In this day and age even firemen are put in harm’s way,” South Hadley Police Chief Steve Parentela said. “Anything we can do to keep our personnel safe is a good thing.”

Occasionally, the fire and police departments meet to go over potential training scenarios. Last October they engaged in a “tabletop exercise” to discuss hypothetical school shooting scenarios.

The department bought the vests for a combined $3,000 from Guardian Uniforms, a body armor outfitter for public safety officials and first responders based in Springfield. Money came from the department’s equipment budget, according to Authier.

The department opted for a soft armor vests, as opposed to active shooter kits, which are made of steel, heavier and more cumbersome.

“It’s more along the lines with what police officers wear,” said David Goodrich, owner of Guardian Uniform. “It’s a lighter, softer armor they can wear over their uniforms.”

“They are not too bulky so they won’t restrict us from doing any medical work on the scene if we have to,” Authier said.

The vests are designed to stand up to bullets and knives, weigh about 5 pounds and are about a half-inch thick. They can carry 20 pounds of miscellaneous medical equipment like scissors and bandages, and are meant to be worn over an officer’s uniform. Two vests will be put in each of the department’s three ambulances.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at

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