HONOLULU (KHON2) – The job of first responders has never been an easy one, but now more than ever EMS personnel respond to dangerous situations, Some even added bulletproof vests to their uniforms.
They are not part of a SWAT team gearing up for battle, but as the bold letters in white and blue on their bulletproof indicate, they are paramedics with the Honolulu Emergency Medical Services.
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Honolulu EMS District Chief and Program Manager for Active Threat Laurie Grace said they are increasingly responding to dangerous situations.
“Honestly there was a lot of resistance,” Grace said. “It hasn’t been a part of EMS in our history. We don’t. This is Hawaii right? It’s a peaceful place. We’re not used to being in situations where we are shot at or people are trying to stab us.”
But over the years the calls for active threats have increased. The department began taking part in the Active Attack Integrated Response Training five years ago, and in recent years the department added bulletproof vests to the ambulances.
Grace said, “Active threat could be a violent assault. The active threat could be a stabbing. The active threat could be a car into a crowd. Active threat could mean anything that is of a violent nature.”
Honolulu EMS Paramedic Mamahel Al-Hozail said she is given discretion for when to use the bulletproof vest. She works the midnight shift in the Chinatown and Kakaako areas, She said that is the time when assaults and other violent crimes tend to happen.
Al-Hozail said, “Sometimes it just depends on the call and how it comes in as, obviously if there is an active shooter threat, We’re definitely going to wear it, if there’s a bad assault with multiple people in progress.”
The vests are easily about 10-15 pounds in weight, and the plates in the front and back are level three body armor that could withstand bullets from guns such as an AK-47.
Grace said EMS personnel have worn a bulletproof vest in 80% of active threat calls this year. Most recently, the shooting in Thomas Square Park. Bulletproof vests were also worn during an April 2021 officer-involved shooting in McCully.
Around the nation, bulletproof vests are becoming more common among EMS departments. On Kauai, the Emergency Management Agency obtained vests for AMR personnel through a grant.
Paramedics who went into the profession to save lives, now taking steps to protect theirs.
“It is definitely changing evolving in the last two to three years the crime has been through the roof,” Al-Hozail said. “Every day we go to calls. Just very important that we stay aware, and we use equipment that we are blessed with at this time to keep ourselves safe.”
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So far, the Honolulu EMS has received 100 helmets and vests costing the department $141,833.
A second order of 150 more vests and helmets is in progress.