Merced County first-responders receive extra gear to keep them safe

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Merced County Fire Department received a grant to provide ballistic vests and helmets to their first-responders. The county said this comes after changing county guidelines that require first-responders to get victims out of dangerous situations sooner.

Officials said violent situations are occurring more often, even in the Central Valley. They said they've been training with EMS to get into a dangerous scene sooner, and now have the equipment they need to stay safe while putting their lives on the line.

Throughout Merced County, firefighters and EMS will now be provided with bulletproof helmets and vests to use when responding to violent situations. County fire officials said they received $150,000 in federal grants to buy more than 150 ballistic safety sets.

"This is something all of us in fire and EMS certainly did not think that we would face," Cal Fire Batt. Chief Jeremy Rahn said. "Over the years there have been different threats and different hazards thrown to the fire and EMS responders and we've had to adapt to for it."

Merced County Division Chief Mark Lawson said the county got together and decided to draft the guideline on responding to violent incidents. During training sessions, an outside consultant recommended first-responders get more safety equipment. The county approached Cal OES to request the vests and were then given the funds.

The new equipment was presented on Thursday during a press conference. Fire officials brought up examples such as the San Bernardino shooting and more recently, the Azusa shooting. They also brought up the UC Merced attack that happened a little more than a year ago.

"It can be an active shooter because of a terrorist threat," Mark Pazin with Cal OES said. "It could be domestic violence situation."

Ultimately, they say they're preparing for the unknown.

"It can happen anywhere," Lawson explained. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."

Los Banos Fire Chief Tim Marrison said the new guidelines allow first-responders to go into a dangerous scene sooner than before and get victims out safely. In turn, they want to return that same level of safety to their own team.

"We're providing a higher level of protection to employees, which translates into better service for our community," he said.

The county said this new equipment will be dispersed throughout the entire county and first-responders will have guidelines on how and when they are used. Fire officials also said they plan to continue seeking funds to keep buying more of those vests and providing more safety to their employees.
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