Violence struck close to home for Houston firefighters in January when four of their law enforcement counterparts were shot while serving a drug warrant. It more than justified the Houston Fire Department’s recent decision to obtain ballistic protection for its personnel in the field.
“We hope we never need to test the ballistic capability, but that was a perfect example of why we need the protection,” says Executive Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann. “Those situations are chaotic in their early stages, and we need to provide our members with all the protection we can as they do their jobs.”
After field-testing some options, the department chose the F1 UFC (Universal Fire Carrier) ballistic vest from Covert Armor, along with optional hard armor plates (it comes with Level II/IIIA soft plates) and tactical helmets.
It will distribute these to every frontline riding position—869 in total across all ambulances, fire apparatus, and other response vehicles.
A unique one-size-fits-all design will enable the full spectrum of providers to wear the F1s and negates the need for individual fitting, sizing, and customized design.
“I’ve literally put one on one of our largest individuals and one of our smallest, and the same vest can accommodate both of them,” says Mann. “Regardless of who’s in those positions every day, the vest will fit them. That’s a unique feature of it, and at the same time, regardless whether it’s a big or small person, it provides a minimum level of protection for each of them.”
Policy for wearing the vests is still in development, but they’ll likely be required for certain call types.
One type that seems certain is more mass shootings. As the department evolves with current trends away from staging at such incidents and toward EMS penetration into warm zones, its personnel can do so with a bit more security.
“Clearing those scenes can take time, and a lot of lives have been lost in those incidents that were savable,” says Mann. “So the shift has been to get us in there quicker, to take care of people more rapidly. To do that safely, we need to provide our personnel the right equipment, and that includes ballistic protection.”