As mass shootings become more common across the country, the Honolulu Fire Department unveiled its newest safety equipment Tuesday designed to protect firefighters during active shooter events as they help evacuate injured victims as quickly as possible.

Using a $330,000 federal Homeland Security grant, HFD purchased 300 sets of ballistic protective equipment including bulletproof vests and helmets.

An active shooter is described as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined or populated area, according to the University of Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety.

During an active shooter training session, firefighters drag a victim on a “sked” while police and sheriffs’ officers provide security. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

During a joint active shooter training session with the Honolulu Police Department in West Oahu Tuesday, Acting Assistant Fire Chief Craig Uchimura said the vests have front and back ultra high molecular weight polyethylene plates with the word FIRE printed in bold across the front. The vests weigh seven pounds, can be put on in about a minute, and will stop a long rifle bullet, he said.

Providing firefighters with these type of vests and helmets has become the new normal.

“This is becoming a standard across the nation where we see firefighters putting on protective gear,” Uchimura said. “Firefighters have gotten calls for house fires and then the person who set the fire is waiting in ambush for them to show up.”

Because the gear is not specifically fire fighting equipment, the reaction from firefighters has been mixed, Uchimura said.

“The thought of having to put on ballistic protection was a little unsettling, but once they realized it was for their own protection and safety it’s become a lot more accepted,” he said. “Because of the different type of active shooter situations we’ve been having across the nation, we found that we have to protect our firefighters and emergency personnel with the same level of equipment.”

“This is becoming a standard across the nation where we see firefighters putting on protective gear.” — Acting Assistant Fire Chief Craig Uchimura

During the active shooter training session, police officers entered a building serving as a school with a person acting as the active shooter inside. Several injured people needed evacuation as quickly as possible, said Lt. Neil Han with HPD’s Major Events Division.

Han said HPD has been conducting this type of training session for a decade and in 2018 began including emergency crews. The first priority is to stop the killing by taking out the shooter, he said. The second priority is to stop the dying by getting the victims medical attention.

Han said Hawaii has not had this type of active shooter incident yet, but officials must be prepared.

“We know when an active attack incident occurs it will (require) an integrated response,” Han said. “We want to make sure to start planning for something that hopefully never happens. But if it should happen we have a plan for what we need to do.”

Nanea Kalani, communications director for the Hawaii Department of Education, said in an email that the DOE does not centrally track the number of lockdowns at schools statewide, but schools are placed in lockdown or required to shelter in place for a variety of reasons ranging from chemical odors to police investigations off campus to homeless individuals wandering on campus.

Kalani said her office has assisted with parent communications for lockdown situations at six schools since the school year began in August.

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