Booby-trapped arson sites prompt fire department to buy bullet-resistant vests

One of 18 new bullet-resistant vest for Hemet firefighters. Photo courtesy of The Press Enterprise.

John Asbury
For The Press-Enterprise

Hemet firefighters will now wear body armor when responding to threatening calls or deadly situations.

The department purchased 18 bullet-resistant vests last year in the wake of nine attacks on Hemet police, Fire Chief Bill Whealan said. Fire officials said although the attacks were targeting the Police Department, booby traps were set to kill first responders.

Hemet firefighters were often the first to respond to the attacks, including the removal of an inactive World War II-era bazooka round and several arsons at police and city facilities.

“Typically when these situations were occurring with explosives or fire, we were the ones responding with police,” Whealan said. “They were trying to attack anyone wearing a badge. When these chaotic events ensued, public safety was the target.”

The department spent about $600 out of the general fund for each vest, Whealan said.

He said such a large expense was essential to protect firefighters but the cost may draw away from other equipment or training in the future.

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