Gainesville Fire Rescue wants to equip ones of its ambulances with armor to help protect medical responders and patients during situations involving active shooters.
GFR is planning to hire a company to add armor to the Ford E350 ambulance the department recently purchased for $58,000.
Once chosen, the company will add level IIIA ballistic protection to the ambulance’s front, sides and back. Level IIIA armor is typically used to protect against handgun-caliber bullets.
Gainesville first responders were involved in a dangerous active shooter situation a few years ago and want to be better prepared in the future, Gainesville Fire Rescue District Chief Shawn Hillhouse said.
“We’ve embedded medics with [a] law enforcement team when there was gun fire being exchanged between law enforcement and [a] suspect,” he said. “We had the need to move injured people from a warm zone back to a cold zone for waiting EMS.”
Once the armor is installed on the ambulance, the vehicle will also be used by other counties across North Central Florida when they need extra help, Hillhouse said.
Hillhouse wouldn’t say how much it will cost to add the armor, but two other fire departments — Bossier City, Louisiana, and San Leandro, California — purchased already-armored ambulances at a price tag of $344,000 (earlier this month) and $275,000 (in 2015), respectively.
Fred Shenkman, a professor emeritus in criminology at the University of Florida, said medical personnel are at a greater risk of succumbing to active-shooter violence when they arrive before police do.
“Medical first responders who are not even armed are expected to go into a live-action situation with no weaponry and no protection,” Shenkman said.
Shenkman said more agencies and departments across the country should have access to armored ambulances.
“If you have officers down or citizens down … [responders] can’t always sit back and wait [for police],” Shenkman said. “We need to be more proactive in getting to that [injured] person, and we don’t want to have emergency medical responders also in danger at that point.”