Greater Naples Fire Rescue approved for first responder bullet proof vests

A fire department in Collier County will soon have added protection for its first responders, and it’s not for safety against a fire. But it could be the difference between life and death on duty.

Greater Naples Fire Rescue District received approval to spend $50,000 on bullet proof vests for firefighters and EMS Thursday.

The fire department said it’s all because of the harsh reality of dangers on the streets. The vests will add protection on the job, and it will require some training for all personnel who use them.

Fire Chief Kingman Schuldt told us that it was a proactive decision to ensure men and women first responders for his district get back home to their families safe every day. The vest will soon be on the fire district’s trucks and ambulances.

Greater Naples Board of Fire Commissioners approved the money allocated for the vests in the annual budget, giving the chief the green light to buy these additional layers of protection for his first responders.

“There’s concern as we all have concern where are we at in harms way,” Schuldt said. “And the reality is that we are in harms way now, and we have to take the correct steps to do the best to limit the exposure.”

Schuldt said he will order the vests next week. And within the next three months, administrative staff will create new policies and training for the vests.

The new vests coming to the fire district will be just one step below military-level protection. Chief Schuldt said there will be 45 to 50 responders wearing them every day.

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Pulse nightclub shootings, there has been conversation locally about ways to keep first responders safer.

Andrew Occhipinti, whose children are firefighters, told us the approval for this kind of protection brings him comfort.

“They’re very dedicated to their job,” Occhipinti said. “It’s a lot of work; especially my daughter, she has three children, and the youngest one just turned four. And to be without your kids all day long. And her husband is the other firefighter. They work opposite shifts.”

Shelly Rizzo agrees; she thinks this is a smart decision on the district’s part — to be proactive instead of reactive. And she feels it’s a good response given the public safety issues that have become increasingly present.

“It’s unfortunate, but I think to deny that it’s happening is not a good thing for them,” Rizzo said. “So I think being proactive is a good thing.”

Reporter:Jerrica Valtierra
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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