As reported by Trentonian.com, Trenton firefighters will receive bulletproof vests and raises as part of a labor contract approved by city council on Dec. 17.
“Our firefighters — they go inside houses — sometimes in situations where they don’t really know what the circumstances are,” Qareeb Bashir, the city’s fire & emergency services director, rationalized Monday of his employees utilizing the bulletproof vests. “Sometimes it’s domestic violence, sometimes they could respond to an emergency where there was a shooting and they could be in harm’s way. So as a precaution, we want to just provide the latest equipment and safety measures to protect our men and women.”
Bashir expects the city’s first responders to be equipped with the vests in a few months.
Bulletproof vests are a first for Trenton’s EMS workers, but a neighboring municipality is already equipping its employees with the body armor.
Ewing bought eight vests for the township’s medical technicians a couple years ago, Mayor Bert Steinmann disclosed on Monday.
“We want to err on the side of caution,” said Steinmann, who is also the township’s public safety director. “We understand that they also get in harm’s way on occasion. We want to make sure that our employees are protected.”
The mayor said wearing a vest is optional, but if workers do decide to put one on, they must keep it under their clothing.
“They have to wear them underneath so they look like EMT’s and not cops,” Steinmann said. “They’re not police officers. We don’t want to put them in further danger if in fact they were responding to something.”
Trenton hopes to pay for the vests by applying for Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG).
“We’re hopeful that we will get the grant for the vests,” the Trenton fire director said. “If not, the city will provide the vests.”
Several years ago, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) actually considered whether to recommend that all fire service members use ballistic vests, but ultimately decided not to include the recommendation in its Standard for Occupational Safety. The decision to issue bulletproof vests has been left up to local fire departments, but Ken Willette, NFPA Division Manager of Public Fire Protection, said the organization’s technical committee may reopen the discussion.
“In the committee’s opinion, fire service personnel was not as engaged in active shooter events as law enforcement officers,” Willette said. “At the time, fire service was considered to be a support provider, and personnel would stand-by and wait for law enforcement during incidents where firearms were involved. But with recent national events, I would not be surprised if the technical committee looks at this again in 2016.”
Willette said some fire departments across the country currently issue ballistic vests to emergency medical crews that may respond to the scene of an active shooter to assist law enforcement in securing the area.
In addition to the vests, Trenton firefighters will receive six consecutive 1.25-percent raises retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015 and continuing through 2020. Both fire unions’ contracts expired at the end of 2012. Under the new eight-year agreement, workers received no raises for 2013 and 2014.
At the same meeting the firefighter contract was approved, city council also signed off signed off on a collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 2286. The city employees were without a contract since Dec. 31, 2011. The new agreement will include four consecutive 1.25-percent raises from 2015 until 2018.
“Our employees are hardworking people who are essential to delivering city services,” city spokesman Michael Walker said in a statement. “We are pleased that we were able to reach agreements with six collective bargaining units that employees find satisfactory. We believe that these contracts are good for the administration and the residents of Trenton.”
This news comes in the wake of the State’s recent announcement that it will be awarding over 5,000 body cameras to 176 police departments across New Jersey.