(Update: Adding video, comments from C.O. fire agencies)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Several fire agencies around the High Desert, including Bend Fire & Rescue and the La Pine and Sisters-Camp Sherman rural fire districts, are receiving ballistic vests (also called 'bullet-proof vests') and medical kits this month, for situations where firefighters may be dealing with active threats.
"Every engine and every medic we have is outfitted with a ballistic vest, and then the trauma bags that are associated with that," Andy Hood, deputy chief at Bend Fire & Rescue, told us Tuesday.
The kits are coming to local agencies as a result of a $37,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Firefighters will use them in situations where they respond to an active shooter, and other emergency situations.
Redmond Fire & Rescue EMS Operations Manager Luke Jerome said, "They keep us safe from bullets or any sort of projectile, so we can quickly access victims and people that have been harmed."
Tim Craig, deputy chief of operations for Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District, added, "If we end up injured in a situation, then we just add to the chaos. So we want to avoid that. But at the same time, in an active investigation, threat situation, seconds count."
Last year, the region saw three active threat cases, including shots fired at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, the east Bend Safeway shooting that left three people dead, and the Shandy's bowling alley incident in La Pine when, shots were fired outside after a dispute.
Even though Bend Fire didn't receive grant money through Homeland Security, another grant allowed them to purchase 77 vests.
Redmond Fire will receive 22, and Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire will receive six.
"It's an unfortunate part of our business" Hood explained. "We didn't reinvent the wheel on this. We took it from national training, and recommendations across the United States on how we should equip and train our folks."
The vests aren't expected to be delivered to fire agencies until later in the month.
Sunriver Fire Department Captain and paramedic Benjamin O'Keefe confirmed that Sunriver will also receive ballistic vests, but didn't specify how many.
Jerome said, "It doesn't matter the department or agency, we all have the same gear. So say, a member of Redmond Fire and Rescue can get paired up with a Sunriver Fire and Rescue paramedic, and we can render the care all the same."
Craig added "Bend, Redmond, Black Butte Ranch -- anybody else that's providing an ambulance transport will likely be coming in to support us, because we won't be able to handle this by ourselves."
The La Pine Rural Fire Protection District also confirmed they'll be receiving vests soon.
Additional grant money has been allocated to most regional fire agencies to order additional vests and kits by this December.