Merrill paramedics equipped with new PPE: ballistic vests


Since COVID began, most people have been accustomed to hearing the acronym PPE, short for personal protective equipment. In the case of COVID, PPE often refers to masks, gloves, plexishield barriers, and such.

Merrill Fire Department (MFD) paramedics just became equipped with another type of PPE: ballistic vests they can wear on “potentially high threat EMS calls.”

MFD Chief Josh Klug explained: “Besides active shooter scenarios, there are other calls for service that could place paramedics in a dangerous situation,” he said in a Jan. 10 press release. “Examples of these situations are drug overdoses, domestic violence, and physical altercations.”

The need for such vests was emphasized after a tragic shooting in Appleton on May 15, 2019, when Appleton firefighter Mitch Lundgaard responded to an EMS call for a drug overdose at the Valley Transit Center in Appleton. A man was unresponsive due to a drug overdose on a bus, firefighter paramedics treated him with Narcan at which time he responded and was able to exit the bus, and police officers asked the man if they could pat him down to ensure the safety of paramedics so he could be transported for continued treatment. The man refused and ultimately pulled a .380 semiautomatic pistol and started shooting, hitting Lundgaard who later died at the hospital, as well as an Appleton police officer and a bystander.

In June 2020, the MFD received a $6,000 grant from Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital, which allowed them to purchase four new ballistic vests, Klug said in his release. “MFD personnel took their time evaluating different products before selecting the ones that were best suited for their needs and use,” he said. “Like other products, the vests were delayed due to availability. When vests and armor plates arrived in December, Merrill paramedics received training on the new PPE from Matt Krembs of Armor Express.”

“Now that all staff have been through the training, the vests have been placed in service,” he added.

Klug said that, while the MFD previously had ballistic vests and armor plates, they were outdated and hard to maintain.

“With the new and improved vests, they will be worn more often by paramedics,” he said.

“Pre-COVID, ballistic vests were a high priority for our department, especially after the Lundgaard incident, but funding and the pandemic slowed down our acquisition of the vests,” Klug said. “It’s crazy to think about all of the PPE that firefighter/paramedics need to have now. It’s turnout gear, hazmat suits, wildland fire gear, PAPRS (Powered Air Purifying Respirators) and Tyvek suits for COVID, and now add ballistic vests.”

Now when paramedics start their shifts, they choose from the four vests, prepare one for their use, and place it on their assigned apparatus for the shift, he said.

Klug added that future supplemental funding would allow the Department to purchase more vests for staff. Anyone interested in donating to help purchase more ballistic vests should contact the Merrill Fire Department.

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