San Antonio Firefighters get ballistic gear

Emergency crews no longer wait for law enforcement to end an active shooter situation before going inside to help the injured. They are reacting along with police. In San Antonio, the fire chief is protecting his staff with ballistic vests and helmets.

When people need help, first responders react. Firefighters run into the fire. Now they must prepare to encounter another type of fire without fear. "It's going to be chaos. Absolute chaos,” said San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood. “We're not used to arriving to a scene where bullets are flying all over the place and you have potential carnage of 20, 30 victims laying right there."

For San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood it's not a question of "if" that scenario would unfold in his city, but "when." "Because of the times we get to live this all the time. It's like a bad video game to where you look at the numbers of people who were injured and dying,” said Hood. "As a rescuer it's very frustrating if you think about someone getting shot in the leg and they laid there for an hour or more and they bleed to death and nobody could get in and get them."

In watching active shooter situations across the country, Hood decided to outfit 79 of his firefighters with military grade ballistic vests, helmets and medical gear so they could safely get to victims.

The gear will be assigned to crews at 22 stations throughout the city. With it comes new training requirements with police and other first responders. "This is going to be a standard that this department is going to have to do just like we go out and pull hoses. We're going to have to be comfortable and thinking about the response to something like this and having to manage it,” said Hood.

The department has also acquired tactical stretchers.

Hood predicts within the next year we will see more and more fire departments arming their staff. "As firemen we've got to understand we are going to be doing battlefield medicine in the streets potentially of any major city so those are things we have to kind of have to prepare for,” said Hood.

The Austin Fire Department's arson unit has vests, but no helmets. A spokesperson says there is ongoing discussion about purchasing vests for more firefighters. All 521 sworn medics with Austin-Travis County EMS are issued ballistic vests. Those who participate in the tactical medic team have full ballistic gear including helmets. They also train with law enforcement.