Fire department buys bullet-proof vests for crews

Firefighters in Dundee will start wearing bulletproof vests to protect themselves during high risk calls. The effort was inspired by a local barricaded shooter incident and mass shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas.

DUNDEE, Fla. (WTSP) -- Volunteers with the Dundee Fire Department have always been prepared to fight flames. Until now, though, they'd been ill-equipped for another type of fire—gunfire.

“We may be a small town fire department with a small town budget, but we think like a big city fire department,” Chief Joe Carbone said.

The department has nine new bulletproof vests. Eight of them can withstand shots from a handgun; one is designed to stop rifle fire.

“When we show up on these scenes, whether it's just an armed robbery or an accidental shooting of some sort, we look around, we're the only ones not wearing them. We're unprotected,” Carbone said.

He first saw the need for an added layer of protection two years ago. His crews were dispatched to a warehouse fire. An active shooter had barricaded himself inside. During the exchange of gunfire with deputies, something exploded and started the fire.

“It was definitely nerve wracking,” Lt. Cory Hart said, recalling that evening. “We could hear the gunshots in the back. We see all the SWAT officers running around with their big AR-15s and assault rifles.”

Since then, Hart said he thinks about his safety more often. The shooting in Las Vegas and, closer to Dundee, the Pulse nightclub massacre further highlight the need for these vests, he explained.

No other department in Polk County has these vests as of right now. Polk County Fire Rescue tells 10News they're looking into getting some for their crews as well. A handful of other city and county departments in the area have them, and others say they’re looking into buying them.

Dundee’s fire department is working on guidelines for wearing the vests. For now, they’ll put them on for any call that could become dangerous, such as a shooting or a stabbing.

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