Aug. 13 -- When some Miramar paramedics rush to help victims of shootings, stabbings and domestic violence, they usually wear bullet-proof vests -- until recently the most common protection for law enforcement officers.
"Anything can happen when you're out on a call," said Lt. Craig McElhaney, who has worked in fire-rescue for 12 years and has worn a vest for nearly two years. "I've been to calls for a drug overdose and discovered the kid had a gun under his pillow."
Almost two years ago, Miramar's EMS unit was the recipient of a $21,875 grant from the Florida Bureau of EMS and the city of Miramar to study the effectiveness of body armor vests for paramedics.
Now, as required by the grant, fire-rescue officials are compiling a final report they expect to finish in the next three months.
The officials will interview all 95 paramedics in Miramar to see if the vests are worth wearing regularly -- and worth buying at about $600 each.
"We are looking for ways to keep our crews safe in the streets," Miramar Emergency Medical Services Chief Bill Huff said.
The vests protect against all bullets except those from .22-caliber guns. They don't offer much protection from knives. But they do protect the body from kicks and blunt objects, Huff said.
Fifty percent of paramedics in his department said they had been assaulted or threatened while on duty, Huff said.
Miramar paramedics, who answer about 7,000 calls a year, were the only ones in South Florida to get the grant for the vests. Huff, who had attended a conference for EMS officials in Maryland, heard a Los Angeles fire-rescue official talk about the importance of bullet-proof vests.
"It intrigued me," said Huff, who returned from the conference and started drafting a grant application to the state.
The state Bureau of EMS also awarded a vest grant to Escambia County Fire-Rescue.
The grant money was generated from traffic ticket revenues in the state, said Ed Wilson, the Bureau of EMS grant program administrator.
Although the Miramar department has about 95 paramedics, it could afford only 40 vests, which are fitted to the paramedic's body.
Many paramedics were skeptical at first, saying they would be mistaken for police officers. But over time, they learned to appreciate the extra protection, officials said.
"We feel better with them on," McElhaney said.
Huff said that after so many firefighters were injured and killed after the 9/11 terror attacks, many emergency workers saw the need for more protection.
And as domestic violence and assault calls increase, paramedics -- who are sometimes at the scene before the police -- are put in harm's way more often.
Last month, a North Carolina paramedic was shot in the chest after she responded to an "unresponsive man." As the paramedic tried to move the man's body, he shot her.
Last year, a Flagler County paramedic was kicked in the chest by a patient while on a call and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Also last year, in Washington, D.C., a paramedic was beaten up by a seizure victim while in the ambulance. She had to call police to help her.
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