I-Team: Cleveland firefighters renew call for bulletproof vests

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CLEVELAND - A Saturday night standoff with an armed man has renewed demands by Cleveland firefighters for bulletproof vests.  It is a story first reported by the Fox8 I-Team more than two weeks ago.

Responding to the scene of the nearly twenty-hour ordeal on Manufacturing Avenue and equipped with 'ballistic vests' were First District Police Officers, members of the SWAT Team, crisis negotiators, deputies from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, the Westshore Enforcement Bureau and Cleveland EMS.  Firefighters were the only emergency responders without protection from bullets.

"At some point, firefighters were requested to come to the scene and provide some type of assistance to police," said Local 93 President Frank Szabo.

His members were reportedly providing police with a ladder to gain entry through a second-floor window.

"We need vests. We need vests and we need them without undue delay," Szabo said.

Szabo told the I-Team that Cleveland's fire chief made no commitment on Monday morning to outfitting his people for dangerous calls.

Szabo said of roughly 750 people staffing the department, only 164 would require bulletproof vests.  At a cost of $500-$700, the least costly bill would amount to $82,000.

"I want to make sure that our first responders have all the equipment that's necessary to keep them safe," said Cleveland Safety Committee Chairman, Matt Zone.

He told the I-Team he’s seen situations over the last two months where firefighters were at the scene involving an armed person.  He's hoping federal funds, intended to beef up safety in anticipation of the 2016 Republican National Convention, would provide a source of funding for the vests.

"Working with our Department of Homeland Security, we want to make sure that when firefighters respond to an emergency situation, they're safely protected,” said Zone, “And if that means getting them fire vests, that's something the city needs to look into."

Szabo said he will try to meet with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson within the next few days in an effort to secure an agreement to purchase 'ballistic vests' for his members.