In response to the increase of threats around the nation in recent years, Clarke County Hospital EMS, local volunteer EMS responders and the Osceola Fire Department began looking for ways to add additional protection when responding to scenes by way of ballistic vests, helmets and response gear.
The idea of Clarke County Hospital’s EMS crews having ballistic vests was first brought to the hospital’s attention when one of their paramedics expressed an interest in getting the gear. The paramedic suggested the idea to Emergency Room Manager Melanie Halls, who took the idea to Tom Bahls, Foundation Manager for the hospital. Bahls then began looking into grants to help fund the purchase of such equipment, working in coordination with Osceola Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Byron Jimmerson.
“This is a great example of how hospital administration hears a suggestion from staff and works to make it happen,” said Bahls.
The rifle-rated ballistic vests and helmets would be used by the EMS and fire department staff in the event of any situation where there is an active threat, or the potential for one, such as an active shooter, domestic violence, or other hostile situations.
“[The vests] allow those who first arrive on the scene to come in and start implementing life-saving actions,” said Shannon Harris, Communications Manager for Clarke County Hospital.
Current protocol requires that emergency services cannot enter a building or area where there is an active threat until the entire building or area has been cleared by law enforcement, which can take hours. With these vests, emergency services can go in as law enforcement (who already have vests) clear individual rooms and start implementing any necessary life-saving procedures.
“The true definition of first responder - that we protect our people as much as we can in a situation and get them in as quickly as possible to treat potential patients as quickly as we can,” said Bahls.
Prior to working with the hospital on the purchase of ballistic vests, the fire department already had four, purchased with a grant through South Central Iowa Community Foundation (SCICF). The fire department also has medical supply kits that affix to the front of the vests, funded a few years ago with help from Clarke County Public Health. The kits contain items needed for casualty responses, such as tourniquets, gauze, and dressing. At the time they purchased the kits, one large kit and two smaller kits were given to the hospital’s ambulance crew, and one large kit and six smaller ones were kept by the fire department.
As part of Governor Reynold’s School Safety Initiative announced in June of 2022, funding for training will be made available for the fire department, EMS, and law enforcement to learn how to work together to respond to an active threat situation as part of a rescue task force. Jimmerson said that a lot of lessons were learned out of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in regards to the response of those on the scene.
Pre-Columbine, Jimmerson explained that law enforcement and emergency personnel would arrive on the scene, but have to wait for the SWAT team to show up and clear the building first. As a result, people who had treatable injuries could potentially succumb to them before medical help could be received, as the threat had to be neutralized for EMS to go in. Now, with the proper equipment, responses to such situations have changed.
“[They] go directly to the threat…waiting is no longer an option,” said Jimmerson. Once law enforcement has identified that there is no visible threat, emergency personnel can enter and begin administering treatment.
As for the training, Jimmerson has offered to take the necessary courses to then be able to come back and train everyone locally, as opposed to only certain people attending the classes and knowing what to do. The training is anticipated to occur sometime this year.
The hospital is looking to purchase ten sets of vests which includes two plates, and ten helmets. Six vests and helmets will be split between the two ambulances at the hospital, and four will go to the volunteer ambulance drivers at the fire department; additional trauma packs, LED headlamps and other support items will also be purchased.
The total cost of the project came in just over $10,000 - that includes the ten vests with two plates each, ten helmets, ten new patches to affix to the gear, eight medical pouches, 14 rescue sheets and additional headlamps.
Clarke County Hospital received three grants to use towards the purchase of the vests and other equipment - $3,070 from Clarke Electric Cooperative’s Roundup program, $1,500 from Alliant Energy’s “Giving for Good” program, and $5,000 from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Foundation. Bahls said that he applied for each of the grants, and was pleased that the different companies saw this as a worthwhile cause.
In addition to the grants the hospital received, the Clarke County Development Corporation (CCDC) awarded a $500 donation at their February board meeting. The fire department then used some of its own funds to cover the remaining difference.
As of mid-February, all of the new protective gear and equipment had been ordered.
The vests, helmets and other equipment were purchased from RMA Armament out of Centerville, a local, veteran owned company. RMA was founded by former Marine and police officer Blake Waldrop.
According to RMA’s website, Waldrop’s mission is to: “design and produce the highest quality armor at the most affordable prices…” RMA states that their ballistic plates outperform every competitor in the industry.