Armored for protection: Ambulance could save first responders' lives

New technology to protect EMS, fire, police

The chief of public safety at Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport says paramedics find themselves close to dangerous situations more and more often. 

VINTON, Va. – Times have changed for first responders. They find themselves closer to dangerous situations more and more frequently. Now, new ambulance technology could keep first responders safer.

On Wednesday, law enforcement and first responders from the Roanoke Valley checked out Horton Emergency Vehicles' "The Guardian," an ambulance armed with ballistic protection. It's wrapped in kevlar -- the material found in bulletproof vests -- and features 360-degree cameras, bulletproof glass and run-flat tires.

"[In] other words, you could puncture the tires, put a hole in the tire and the tire's gonna stay up and you can drive away," said Clay Fitzgerald, a Fesco Emergency Sales manager, who sells the ambulance technology in Southwest Virginia. "You can drive to safety."

Ben Cook is the chief of public safety at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. He's also a retired firefighter and the former Vinton police chief. Cook said his department could use this gear.

"This would be something we could definitely use," Cook said. "A barricaded suspect, a hostage-taker, armed robbery and somebody's still inside the building. There's a lot of instances that would require an extra level of protection."

"We like to come out and see what extra level of technology is available," said Roanoke County Sheriff Eric Orange.

The armor is also designed to protect vehicles from storm damage, like what happened to an ambulance during a tornado in Franklin County.

"Render aid a little bit further into the storm and a little bit earlier into the storm," Fitzgerald said.

CW Armor in Vinton can work with local departments to upgrade ambulances. However, it can be pricey: up to $100,000. Grants are available, and if departments pool resources, it would be possible to see an armored ambulance in the Roanoke Valley. Cook said the need is there. 

"We all work really well together in the Valley," Cook said. "Anything we can do to help protect our staff and other people, we're all for it."

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