Starting this fall, Red Deer fire-medics will start wearing bullet-proof vests to emergency calls.
“We’re in the process of fitting our staff,” said Jon Evans, assistant deputy chief of operations for Red Deer Emergency Services.
While some front-line health workers have spoken out about escalating incidents of violence by people with mental illness or who are high on opiates, Evans said the decision to spend about $150,000 on the vests was more proactive than reactive.
Many paramedics who work directly for Alberta Health Services already wear body armour to protect them against possible gun or knife attacks, said Evans.
“AHS led the charge with the bullet-proof vests. It’s part of their PPE (personal protective equipment) for their staff and contracted service providers.”
Someone brought that fact forward to the health and safety committeee at Red Deer’s EMS. As a result, members were surveyed and a majority were interested in adopting the vests, he added.
A bulletproof or ballistic vest helps absorb the impact and stops penetration to the torso from sharps or projectiles.
Evans said it’s not yet determined whether these vests will be worn to all emergency calls, or whether some kind of rating process will be established to rate the hazard level risk fire-medics could be facing. “The parameters will have to be determined.”
The problem is “every incident has a level of risk” — for instance, a routine health call can turn dangerous if the patient has dementia or a mental illness, feels threatened and pulls a kitchen knife.
Evans said the bullet-proof vests have to be custom fitted for each fire-medic. “It’s a lengthy process” that was started in about 2018. He expects the vests to be delivered over the next few months and worn starting this fall.
Red Deer’s EMS workers respond to 911 health emergency and fire calls, but they can also be called in to help with 211 social disorder calls —“if and when it’s necessary,” said Evans.