BC city approves $15,000 for bulletproof vests for firefighters

“Things have changed” for Mission firefighters amid growing threats and violence

The increase in threats and violence has Mission Fire and Rescue Services (MFRS) seeking further protection measures.

Mission City Council unanimously approved $15,000 to purchase bulletproof vests for firefighters at its meeting on Monday (Nov. 6). Firefighter Bulletproof Vests Bureau Chief Mark Goddard outlined the need for bulletproof vests in a report.

“Statistically, the homeless population is generally not a threat to rescue workers. Given the number of incidents each year, assaults and violence, while still rare, are becoming more common and missions are not immune to this threat,” the report states.

The addition of overdose calls to firefighters’ responsibilities also adds to the risk. Naloxone can quickly turn an unconscious, calm overdose victim into an agitated one, according to the report. If a patient becomes violent, firefighters may not have time to retreat, Goddard said.

Over the past two years MFRS members have been involved in several violent altercations, including an attempted axe attack on a district chief responding to a fire complaint and a recent fire on Gunn Road which left one man dead.

“In an outreach capacity… I don’t think bulletproof vests would be that effective and in fact may create a sense of security that isn’t always there. It’s more of a procedural issue than anything else… but when it comes to the Gun Road fire, there’s no question about it. When I heard about it, my first thought was I hope our members have bulletproof vests. There was no other way they could have safely responded and it was tragic that they had to stand by and watch it unfold.”

MFRS staff shared their personal experiences from the past few years in a report recommending the use of bulletproof vests.

“This job is very different than it was a few years ago,” one firefighter wrote. “The landscape has changed and taken a darker turn, and everyone needs to be aware of this. The safety of first responders is at risk, and it’s time to reexamine how we can protect those who protect our communities every day.”

Vancouver Fire Rescue has already purchased the vests, and Burnaby, Merritt, Calgary and Lethbridge are also considering similar protection.

Officials will also report to Congress on policies and training regarding the use of bulletproof vests. Funding for the purchase of bulletproof vests will come from the Public Safety Reserve Fund.

Goddard said it’s highly unlikely that firefighters would ever wear protective gear and bulletproof vests, which would be more appropriate for higher-risk medical calls.

At Monday’s meeting, the City Council also unanimously approved an amendment to the city’s capital plan to spend $93,300 toward an exhaust ventilation system at Fire Station No. 1.

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