The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
Volunteer fire departments in Cumberland County are getting protective ballistic gear intended to protect them in active shooter situations.
Firefighters and emergency medical workers also are being trained to work with law enforcement officers to remove victims of mass shootings as soon as possible. Previously, victims weren’t removed until the scene was secure, according to Freddy Johnson, president of the Cumberland County Fire Chiefs Association.
“This is a totally different approach to rescue,” Johnson said. “The old approach was totally ineffective.”
The association purchased the protective gear as part of its active shooter response plan. Johnson said the gear is capable of stopping bullets fired from an AK-47 or AR-15.
Commissioner Jimmy Keefe said the gear and the training represent a change in thinking about response to active shooter situations.
“Precious moments cost lives,” he said.
Keefe said volunteer fire departments are responsible for providing services to 100,000 citizens in the county.
“This new equipment will protect them as they protect us,” he said.
Wayne Lucas, chief of the Godwin-Falcon Fire Department, said attitudes about active shooter situations have changed over the past four or five years as officials realized that deaths can occur if emergency workers can’t get to victims quickly.
“You’ve got to get a team in there,” he said.
Lucas said the ballistic protective gear and training are important steps for the county.
“This is necessary,” he said.
Hope Mills Fire Chief Chuck Hodges said firefighters have to be ready for hazardous situations.
“The dynamics of what we do has changed,” he said.
Johnson said the association bought 140 sets of protective gear. Each fire district will get at least eight sets, with the districts that have more than one station getting more, he said.
The association spent $90,000 for the equipment. The money came from the 1.25-cent Special Fire District Tax that is paid by residents in unincorporated areas of the county.
The training already has started.
“We hope to have everybody trained by the first of the year,” Johnson said.
Johnson said officials need to be prepared to an active shooter situation.
“I look at this not as a matter of if, but when,” he said. “If we’re going to be exposed to gunfire, we’ve got to have protective gear.”
Johnson said he’s confident that members of the volunteer departments will respond if needed.
“When that call for an active shooter comes in, every Cumberland County firefighter that I know will go above and beyond the call of duty to save a life,” he said.
Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3572.
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