MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)— There is a new push to protect some of the heroes who protect us.

When things go wrong, firefighters are the ones who answer the most urgent of calls. But surprisingly, most calls they get have nothing to do with fire, according to Deputy Chief Ken Adams of the St. Paul Fire Department.

“We run 118 EMS calls a day, where we may only get 40 fire calls a day, so we are out there more than people realize,” Adams said.

Like many departments, St. Paul firefighters run EMS, too. Capt. Kathryn Heckaman says that means they respond to violent situations, like shootings.

“We might have one victim, and then we have a loved one there that we also have to manage,” Heckaman said.

And some of those situations are full of unknowns, like in 2016 when St. Paul firefighters backed up police in an active shooter situation when a law clerk was killed.

“We didn’t know where the shooter was, police didn’t know where the shooter was, so they were protecting us the best they could,” Adams said.

But unlike the police officers, the fire department doesn’t have bulletproof gear.

“Going in without a vest, you just never know when that incident is going to happen,” Adams said.

That is why Jake Skifstad, a former police officer in Colorado, started SHIELD616.

“As first responders, we are expected to respond to our community, but we don’t have protection against a rifle,” Skifstad said.

So he made this rifle-proof equipment for officers and firefighters.

“Law enforcement goes in, but a lot of people don’t realize, shortly after, firefighters go in to try and treat those people and save their life,” Skifstad said.

Unlike officer gear, the firefighter gear is worn over the uniform. It costs about $2,000 per person, and the company allows people to sponsor a firefighter then meet them. Chief Deputy Adams says it’s worth the investment.

“We are not protecting our people the best we can,” Adams said.

So he is pushing for his department to get the gear for those who could end up in the line of fire.

“We take that vow to go in to protect people and we do, as best we can, with vests or without vests, but it’s much more comforting having that vest,” Adams said.

Click here for more information on SHIELD616.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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