All Madison, WI, firefighters on every shift now have bullet resistant vests assigned to them for added protection on any calls posing a higher risk for gunfire.

The new gear — totaling 90 vests, weighing 20 pounds a piece and lined with heavy ceramic plates to stop rounds from handguns to high-powered rifles — will be required for all Madison Fire Department personnel responding with police to provide medical help where bullets are or might be flying.

It’s part of the new reality of rendering aid in a society increasingly marred by mass shootings, often defined as four or more killings or attempted killings in one incident.

The vests, also known as body armor, will be optional for EMTs and paramedics on more routine medical calls, which make up the vast majority. But even those sometimes can be dicey, such as volatile domestic violence scenarios, especially involving weapons, and unexpected threats.

A volunteer firefighter in Arizona, for example, was fatally shot Jan. 22 on an emergency medical call to help a man having a seizure. The man, while coming out of the seizure, apparently mistook the firefighter for a home intruder, according to media accounts of the incident.

“It’s an added piece of protection,” Madison firefighter/EMT Austen Fuchs told the Wisconsin State Journal.

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