CARIBOU, Maine — Update 4 p.m. 11/30/21:
Caribou Fire and Ambulance isn't the only emergency responder group wearing protective vests; so are members of the South Portland Fire Department, officials say.
A spokesman for the department said crew members are wearing ballistic vests on certain calls.
"We purchased them 18 to 24 months ago. We carry various sizes, and due to cost, we purchased one for reach riding position on the apparatus, not one for each employee," Robb Couture, public information officer for the department, said.
In the morning, each person who will wear a ballistic vest picks the right size and stores it on the apparatus they are riding on, Couture said.
The vests regularly get inspected for signs of wear, damage, and cleanliness. They provide both ballistic and stab protection when worn on certain calls.
"In our guideline, these calls are identified as: any address that our dispatch has 'flagged' a caution (weapons known on-site, violent behavior, etc.), any known drug overdose, an unknown problem where there is potential for responder harm, a call to stage (wait nearby) for the police, check the wellbeing of an individual, mental health evaluation, active assailant, assaults, shootings, stabbings, fights, domestic assault, or attempted or confirmed suicide," Couture said.
He continued, "Because these calls have increased risk of weapons associated with them, the vests are an extra layer of protection, much like we wear fire gear on fire calls."
All of the protective vests also identify crew members as "fire rescue" in large white letters on the front and back.
Cost prevents some departments from buying the vests, as they are around $1,200, Couture said. The ballistic plates in the vest also have to be replaced each decade.
Caribou Fire and Ambulance is the latest in the state to equip ambulance workers with bulletproof vests.
The worsening opioid crisis has added to the danger for first responders, necessitating the vests, Caribou Fire and Ambulance Chief Scott Susi said.
“When you revive someone, they’re unpredictable,” Susi said. “They might flail their arms or grab an object on the floor. You never really know what they’re going to do.”
Such vests are more commonplace in southern Maine. Caribou is the first in Aroostook County to buy them.
A donation from a local bank funded the purchase of 16 vests for the entire crew of Caribou Fire and Ambulance.