Are Stab-Proof Vests Necessary for Ambulance Crews?
Monday, 13 July, 2015
Many do not see body armour as necessary equipment for paramedics and ambulance crews. For most, the phrase ‘body armour’ conjures up images of the police wearing stab proof vests, security guards with bulky bullet proof vests standing on doorsteps and outside gates, or even soldiers and military personnel, equipped with thick, full body camouflaged armour designed to stop bullets and bombs. However, body armour in any form is an important piece of equipment for anyone working in a potentially dangerous environment. Sadly, this far too often includes paramedics and ambulance crews.
Injuries to Paramedics
A quick search through any newspaper or news site offers up reports of paramedics being attacked in their line of duty, with ambulance crews throughout the country facing violence. Many of these attacks involve injured, disoriented or intoxicated individuals, who may also have mental health problems. The nature of the paramedics’ role puts them in close contact with people who may be aggressive and disoriented, and paramedics may sustain injuries that are not malicious in nature. While some attacks are not accidents, the vast majority may simply come from accidents or frightened and injured people lashing out. However, the end result for ambulance crews is the same, and helping to avoid injury is very important.
Supplying ambulance crews with body armour is not paranoia, nor does it signal a rise in violence and attacks against paramedics. The importance of supplying body armour is in preventing any injury, no matter the cause; many may not realise that wearing body armour will minimise the risk of injury cause by incidents such as traffic collisions. There a very few solid statistics on ambulance crashes in the UK, though it has been reported that in the last 9 months of 2007 there were nearly 1200 crashes, amounting to over 4 a day. These statistics may not be relevant anymore, as the information is 8 years old, but ambulance crashes and traffic collisions may still occur, and wearing body armour will help mitigate the impact. For example, DuPont- the makers of Kevlar- hold an annual ceremony honouring American Police Officers whose lives have been saved by body armour, and a significant number of these officers were involved in otherwise fatal traffic collisions.
Statistics on attacks and injuries to paramedics is scarce, but reports suggest that there were nearly 1000 attacks on all healthcare staff from 2013-2014. However, the Government argues that there is a culture of acceptance among ambulance crews and health workers, as attacks and injuries are seen as simply part of the job. This has led to, they argue, an under-reporting of violence and attacks, which is why statistics cannot be accurately reported. Nevertheless, there remains the threat of attack, particularly as ambulance crews are regularly called out to deal with those who are intoxicated and/or aggressive. However, the main purpose of body armour is to protect against attacks using weapons. Thankfully, these appear to be rare, but as paramedics are all too aware, it does not take much to cause a fatal injury. Broken bottles, needles or even household tools can be used to deadly effect, and the presence of body armour would provide much needed support against these potential weapons.
Stab Proof Vests
A stab proof vest would provide the protection paramedics need. Stab proof vests use traditional protective materials like Kevlar, a strong yet flexible plastic-based fabric, but with layers of chainmail, laminate or in some rare cases steel. This gives vests the blunt force protection offered by Kevlar, but protects the fibres from being cut by edged weapons. Each of the materials has their own unique strengths and weaknesses; chainmail and steel are stronger than laminate, but are naturally heavier and thicker. This can be of concern to ambulance crews who require flexibility in order to do their job properly. Steel in particular is rigid and uncomfortable, but has the benefit of stopping spiked attacks. While edged weapons are stopped by these hard materials, spike weapons like stilettos or needles can pass through the gaps in Kevlar and chainmail and cause a fatal injury. Steel and laminate prevent this by creating a tough surface for the weapon to pass through. With needles in particular very accessible for patients or potential attackers, body armour for paramedics requires spiked protection.
Wearing a Stab Proof Vest
The weight and size of body armour is another important factor for paramedics, who have a very physically demanding job. If they choose to wear a stab and spike proof vest, it is important that it does not hinder them in any way. Modern body armour is very thin and lightweight and can be worn comfortably for extended periods. Choosing a stab proof vest that utilises laminate will not only provide spiked protection, but will be thinner, lighter and more flexible than its metal counterparts, though some prefer the psychological benefit of these metal materials. These psychological benefits apply to the way in which the vest is worn also, as stab proof vests are available in both covert and overt styles. A covert vest can be worn comfortably under clothes or a uniform for long periods, without hindering movement. Vests are designed to sit just above the belly button, covering the vital organs but also allowing for freedom of movement. Coupled with the lightweight and flexible nature of the materials, this makes covert vests very comfortable to wear for long periods.
Furthermore, stab proof vests (often called knife-resistant vests) in covert styles can incorporate temperature regulating technologies to help improve air flow and draw moisture away from the skin. This makes vests like SafeGuard’s Stealth Vest comfortable to wear even in extreme temperatures. An overt vest, on the other hand, is worn over clothing and can make up part of a uniform, as high-visibility strips, logos and insignia, and even pouches for additional equipment can all be added to the vest to make it a useful aspect of a paramedic’s uniform. An overt vest can still be worn comfortably for long periods, but cannot be made with temperature regulating technologies, and so may prove a burden in high temperatures. Nevertheless, some feel that displaying their stab proof vest may help deter any potential attackers- though it can also be argued that it highlights paramedics as potential targets.
There for those who need them
The style and protection level of stab-proof vests for paramedics cannot be solved from on high; paramedics face a wide variety of situations from day to day, and no two paramedics find themselves in the same scenarios. It is a matter of personal preference as to how a stab proof vest is worn and the materials it utilises, just as it is a matter of personal preference whether or not to wear body armour. Making a knife-resistant vest mandatory for ambulance crew would only provide them with more equipment that may be completely unnecessary, and will likely not be worn. However, supplying them with protective clothing that can be worn at their discretion will help save lives by allowing them to properly do their job. Based on an international survey conducted by PPSS Group, 76% felt that stab resistant vests should be issued to all paramedics, but 62% felt it should not be made compulsory. Clearly there is a perceived need for knife-resistant vests among paramedics, but also a recognition that they are not necessary for many.
Protecting our Paramedics
Paramedics are not a homogenous group, and many face completely different situations from day to day. However, there are always instances where these brave men and women need protecting, especially in serious situations such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, where we see paramedics and ambulance crews on the front line. Supplying ambulance crews and paramedics with stab proof vests will give them the protection necessary for the most dangerous situations, but allowing it to remain a personal choice whether or not they are worn will allow them to use their own judgement and continue to do their job effectively.