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First responders are expected to respond to a wide variety of situations and perform a great deal of different tasks. This can include dealing with large crowds, frightened and confused individuals, disaster scenarios and even violent and armed individuals. The situations they have to work in can be incredibly dangerous, and it is unreasonable to expect these brave men and women to perform without proper protection. However, just as their responsibilities will vary, so too will the threats facing them and the relevant protection they will need.
Body armor is seen as equipment reserved for the Police and the Military, and some argue that it can even invite conflict. However, body armor is still considered unnecessary by some even in Law Enforcement or the Armed Forces. Wherever there is the threat of attack or violence, whether or not it involves a weapon, body armor should be considered an appropriate and necessary piece of equipment.
One of the most important parts of a first responder’s job is flexibility and adaptability. Being able to react to the situation and behave accordingly can mean the difference between life and death. This does not mean protection should be sacrificed however, and having a bullet proof vest which does not inhibit this aspect of their role is very important. Bullet proof vests in particular are usually seen as bulky and cumbersome pieces of equipment, which is naturally the exact opposite of what First Responders need. However, body armor is lighter and thinner than ever before, and there are a number of vests available that perfectly suit the needs of the first responder.
What Style of Vest?
An important point to consider is the style of the vest, as body armor can be found in both covert and overt styles. This means that a bullet or stab proof vest can be worn underneath clothing or over it as part of a uniform. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and the decision as to which is most appropriate depends largely on the situation. For example, many argue that displaying body armor can help deter potential attackers and display authority. Overt vests can also be customized with logos and insignia, making it a useful part of a uniform. For those attending disaster scenes for example, this statement of authority will be help helpful in taking control of the situation.
It may not be obvious why a bullet proof vest is necessary for First Responders attending a disaster scene, and yet it is still vital. The materials used in a bullet resistant vest are extremely strong yet lightweight, and can absorb and disperse a large amount of energy. This means that any impact can be mitigated to some extent by protective clothing, and a Kevlar vest can save the wearers life from falling debris, blunt force, and even traffic accidents. Therefore, in any situation where injury is possible, a Kevlar vest should be considered.
A covert vest can provide the same protection, but with the added benefit of being discreet and even more lightweight than an overt vest. Some covert vests even utilise temperature regulating technologies to help keep the wearer cool, and can be worn comfortably under clothing even for extended periods. Some have argued that while overt body armor can deter attackers, it can also create animosity and even invite conflict. For some, it will simply not be appropriate to simply body armor, and yet protection is still necessary. For these individuals, a covert vest is the best choice.
Types of Protection
Of course, while a Kevlar vest can protect against a wide range of impacts and ammunition, it cannot protect against all weapons. Similarly, certain bullet proof vests cannot protect against certain ammunitions. Bullet resistant vests are tested and graded according to the National Institute of Justice’s standards, which are widely recognized as the best in the world. These grades or ‘levels’ dictate exactly what ammunition a vest can protect against. For example, a Level IIIa vest can stop the vast majority of handgun ammunition, but cannot stop high caliber rounds or automatic weapons.
No matter what level a bullet proof vest is graded at, it cannot stop edged or spiked weapons without additional materials. This is because the strong fibers used in Kevlar will be cut by a sharp edge, and a spiked weapon can pass through the minute gaps in the fabric, rendering the vest useless. For protection against these weapons a vest needs additional materials of chainmail and/or plastic laminate, which creates a tough surface designed to prevent penetration. These additional materials are also incredibly thin and lightweight, so a vest is not made heavy or bulky by the inclusion of edged or spike protection.
Some First Responders are required to attend incredibly dangerous situations involving active threats and possibly armed attackers. Sadly, some have even targeted those who attend emergencies with high-powered weapons, such as this tragic attack in New York. The decision as to what sort of armor is most appropriate can be a difficult one, but there are those who may need protection against high caliber ammunition and even armor-piercing rounds, and for this a bullet proof vest needs rigid plates of Ceramic and/or Polyethylene. These rigid plates can be worn in some overt vests, and are still relatively lightweight and thin. These plates will be difficult to wear for those who do not need them, but for anyone who may face attacks using high caliber weapons, the protection it offers is vital.