SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) —- In an emergency, an unpredictable situation can easily go from bad to worse without warning.
Now members of Shreveport Fire Department’s top brass are looking at ways to better protect firefighters as they place their lives on the line.
“I’d say 20 years ago, when we got a call to go into someone’s house, we had no worries going in,” Shreveport Fire Chief Scott Wolverton said.
“Twenty years later, we really don’t know what we’re getting into.”
Now a focus group has been formed to better prepare firefighters for such situations.
"Between 57 percent and 93 percent of EMS responders have experienced an act of verbal and/or physical violence at least once during their career,” according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Fire Administration,
Such threats unrelated to fire calls keep Wolverton on edge in a fluid situation.
“I always stop and say a prayer for our firefighters and for any citizen that may be in that home,” the fire chief said.
“We’ve had our vicarious incidents in Shreveport where there was a weapon. ... We’re not trained to deal with threats like that.”
The focus group is made up of firefighters who bring their various backgrounds, such as military experience and expertise in emergency medicine, to the table. It is expected to have possible solutions ready for Wolverton later this month.
“I don’t think you can have 100 percent protection always, but you can try everything you can to put protective measures in place,” the fire chief said.
The focus group is considering the possibility of equipping all firefighters with ballistic vests, body cameras and advanced training to mitigate an aggressive person on scene.
The Fire Department now has close to 40 vests but 566 firefighters.
The big holdup is funding. Equipping all the firefighters across the department would cost millions, Wolverton estimated. “Our ballistic vests have been listed in the city budget as unfunded for four years now.
"You have to have protective equipment to fight fire and make haz-mat calls,” the fire chief continued. “We’re also seeing these [ballistic vests] step up in that priority.”