Tactical helmets in 2018: not just for soldiers and police

Tactical helmets in 2018: not just for soldiers and police

August 01, 2018


Equipping firefighters and paramedics with ballistic helmets to face threats on the job 



     We started Hard Head Veterans to provide high-quality tactical helmets to those who need it most- the American soldiers and law enforcement officers who place themselves in harm’s way every day for their country. Head injuries are no joke, and we’ve got your back. We’ve talked before about what goes into testing combat helmets like the ATE, and why they’re necessary gear whether you’re on the battlefield or in the squad car. But what about the fire truck, or the ambulance?

     The fact is, that there are real on-the-job risks for those who serve in other ways. Every day we see stories of shootings on the news, and we all live with the knowledge that an active shooter could arrive anywhere, at any time. Yet all too often the first responders to a crisis are not adequately protected against this kind of threat. First responders such as firefighters and paramedics are not armed, and frequently not equipped with tactical helmets or other protective gear. Giving them protective gear benefits them twice over- it mitigates risks to life and limb, and accordingly allows them to more quickly help those who have been injured. 

Los Angeles Firefighters Embrace on the Overpass

Pictured above: Firefighters embrace on an overpass as the vehicle carrying fallen firefighter Dave Rosa’s body passes below. Photo credit: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2018

     The risk to life and limb is more than just a hypothetical threat. Last month, firefighters Dave Rosa and Ernesto Torres with the Long Beach, California Fire Department responded to a fire alarm in a residential housing complex. They did not know that one of the residents had built a homemade explosive device, that he had set it off inside the building, nor that he was armed with a revolver and had already murdered another resident. Several windows had been blown out by the explosion, and fire was burning. Rosa and Torres entered the building to put the fire out, after which the man who set off the explosion shot them both, killing Rosa. Read the Los Angeles Times’ account of the incident here.

     In the Long Beach case, the shooter was out looking to kill innocent people. This is the nightmare scenario which has become all too typical in today’s society. However, tragedy can strike through misunderstandings as well. In 2016 in Maryland,John Ulmschneider and Kevin Swain of the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department visited the home of a diabetic man at the request of the man’s family, who feared he was sick and could not reach him. When no one answered the door, the two entered the home, which led the resident to believe the home was being invaded. Tragically, he then shot both men, killing Ulmschneider. There was no indication for Ulmschneider and Swain to believe that there was any risk to their lives before they arrived, and they followed regular procedures for checking on the welfare of a potentially ill individual. Read the Baltimore Sun’s account of the incident here,and ABC News’ here.

Firefighters Honor Fallen Comrade in Maryland

Pictured above: First responders carry folded American flags in honor of their fallen comrades at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Photo credit: Jim Joyner, Baltimore Sun, October 8, 2017

     It is impossible for firefighters and paramedics to predict with absolute certainty what kind of situations they will encounter on duty. As we have seen in the real incidents recounted above, what seems like a routine call can quickly become life-threatening. The unfortunate reality is that it makes sense to equip firefighters and paramedics with the same protective gear that we issue to soldiers and police.

     The military already understands that anyone who will be put in harm’s way needs to be prepared, which is why it gives combat medics the same tactical gear as the infantry. It would be ridiculous to tell a medic out on deployment that he does not need a helmet in combat. Firefighters and paramedics can be seen as a civilian version of the combat medic- there to provide immediate assistance to the injured and imperiled. When you take into account the greater likelihood they will experience violence on the job, the comparison makes even more sense. 

In this light, Las Vegas has begun re-training some of its paramedics specifically as “tactical paramedics.” They will accompany law enforcement onto active-shooter and other high-risk scenes (or “hot zones”) in order to more quickly treat the wounded, for whom minutes can mean the difference between life and death.  The tactical paramedics will be issued body armor and ballistic helmets but will not be armed.

Previously, all Las Vegas paramedics were trained to wait for law enforcement to neutralize the threat before beginning to assist the injured in the hot zone, but events prompted them to reevaluate their procedures. Las Vegas was scene to the deadliest shooting in American history less than a year ago when a man fired over a thousand rounds from his hotel room down on a crowd of citizens attending a country music festival. Fifty-eight people were killed and over eight hundred injured in what became the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and it forced first responders in Las Vegas and nationwide to come to terms with how their role has changed. As one Las Vegas paramedic named Callie Fraser said, “We were all there that night, and in the aftermath, we saw that everything that night was in the hot zone and our standard training as medics and EMTs doesn't prepare us for us to be in the hot zone.” Or, as paramedic Steven Carter more bluntly put it, “Let’s face it, our country has become a battlefield.” Read more about this re-training effort in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

     It is becoming clear to many fire and EMT departments in light of the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that their officers frequently face danger. Many American towns and cities are beginning to prepare for these worst-case scenarios by giving their first responders the tools they need to be effective and stay safe on the job. Municipalities around the country have begun giving tactical gear to their firefighters including ballistic helmets and vests, and it is beginning to make the difference. We hope this trend continues.


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