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New Orleans equips paramedics with bullet proof vests, military-grade helmets

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Bullet proof vests and military-grade helmets are usually the type of equipment seen on the battlefield, but in New Orleans, that kind of gear is in the back of some ambulances.

"Initially, I think there was some shock to it, but I think we have buy-in from our employees on how important it is," Director of New Orleans EMS Jeffery Elder said. "This is getting life-saving hemorrhage control and treatment directly to the patient quickly in a methodical manner in a way that really mitigates risks for the employee and everyone involved." 

The ceramic vests can stop a high-powered rifle round and come with a kit that includes medical supplies of at least eight tourniquets and heavy duty gauze for paramedics responding to mass shooting scenes. 

The kits, designed with the help of the department, come equipped with two sets of gear for first responders and it's designed to get paramedics into a scene quickly to treat as many people as possible. 

After police clear a section of the scene, paramedics will enter immediately - even while a threat is still very real. 

"We know we have patients and we have people to get to help, but we believe the threat has been neutralized or moved on," Edler said. "Under the cover of police protection along with some of this gear, we can get in and we can start immediately treating our patients, dealing with life-threatening hemorrhage or airway issues and ultimately move them out of the danger area and get them off to the hospital."

The new school of thought came after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. A gunman killed 20 students and six teachers, and the Hartford Commission concluded that first responders may have been able to do more if they could have gotten inside faster and safely.  

"A system like this saves minutes to hours," Elder said. "Where as before we would wait in the background for maybe hours, now within minutes we can get in there, start treating patients and deal with them." 

Nine of the kits were purchased through a donation from the Krewe of Hermes and an anonymous donor. Edler would like all of the more than 30 ambulances to be equipped with the tactical gear. 

City leaders said paramedics have had to use this tactical gear before, but would not go into specifics. 

However, New Orleans has had to deal with mass shootings of its own, such as the shooting at Bunny Friend playground last November, where 17 people were shot and paramedics had to get to the scene and get victims out as quickly as possible. 

"What we've seen in Paris, in Boston, in Orlando and in Baton Rouge is the unfortunate reality of threats at home from homegrown extremism and from violence," New Orleans Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Aaron Miller said. "We have to have public safety equipped and trained with the resources to keep the public safe."
    
With New Orleans hosting big events such as Mardi Gras and the upcoming NBA All-Star Game, leaders feel the equipment puts paramedics at the forefront of emergency response. 

"We know that those sorts of large events remain vulnerable, and we want make sure we are doing everything we can to mitigate those threats," Miller said.   

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