Akron equips ambulances with ballistic vests and helmets

AKRON, Ohio-- Akron firefighters and paramedics have a new tool when responding to dangerous situations, after all ambulances were equipped with ballistic vests and helmets.

Thursday, crews loaded all 14 ambulance units with four sets each of helmets and the same type of vests worn by police officers they respond alongside.

The gear cost the City of Akron about $59,000. $29,000 was paid for by a grant from Northern Ohio Golf Charities and the rest was paid for with funds generated by Akron’s new .25% income tax.

Akron joins other large Ohio cities including Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati that already equipped their fire departments with bulletproof vests.

“The nature of our job is when we respond to an incident, we have no idea what we're going to find on the other end. And this is just an additional layer of protection should we encounter the unexpected,” said Akron Fire Capt. Chris Karakis.

He said that while the new gear won’t affect how staff responds to incidents, firefighters and paramedics will be required to wear it during a range of potentially violent situations, including active shooters.

“The environment out there can be hostile at any time: domestic disturbances, shootings, stabbings, psychiatric patients, just to name a few,” said District Chief Joseph Natko.

Natko said there have been several close calls in the past, during which crews thought a scene had been secured when gunfire rang out.

“There's been a couple situations where we should've had them before. It would've been smart,” said firefighter/medic Justin Ward, who called the equipment an excellent resource. “You don't want to ever be in a situation where you can't enter a scene because you don't have the equipment that you would need to effectively do your job.”

While initially only ambulances will be equipped with the vests and helmets, Karakis said the department aims to eventually equip fire engines, too.