SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan police and fire departments will use recently awarded federal grant money to give officers and firefighters a second chance in a potential emergency situation.

Ballistic body armor vests will be purchased for firefighters and exterior vest carriers for police officers.

The Board of Selectmen accepted a 2018 Homeland Security grant in the amount of $10,512 for the Fire Department and $8,595 for the Police Department.

There is no local match for the funding.

“We are using the Homeland Security Grant for 15 new portable radios to update our 13-year-old existing radios and 15 new exterior vest carriers,” Police Chief David Bucknam said Tuesday. “The old radios will be refurbished as my budget will allow.”

A ballistic body armor vest is a bullet-resistant or bulletproof vest that helps absorb the impact and reduce or stop penetration to the body from projectiles and shrapnel from firearms or explosions. They are worn on the torso.

“The ballistic body armor the officers are wearing now are being measured and the vest carriers are being built for them,” Bucknam said. “Currently the officers are wearing over 30 pounds of equipment on a belt around their waist. This new ballistic carrier will allow the officer to place some of that equipment on the vest carrier taking the weight off their waist.”

Bucknam said that during the hot summer months, the officers will be able to remove the vest while at the police station allowing their uniforms to dry and to take the weight off their bodies.

“In keeping with the town of Skowhegan wellness program, this will reduce workplace injuries and promote a better work environment for the officers,” he said.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said the need for body armor has increased over recent months. He said part of dealing with potential school shootings is firefighters responding to the scene with police officers. Howard said he wouldn’t send his firefighters into a building without the proper gear to protect them.

“This is becoming normal,” he said, adding that emergency medical service personnel and full time fire departments nationwide are using the protective equipment. “We were fortunate enough to secure grant funding to pay for this.”

He said use of body armor will be on a case-by-case basis and will be up to the officer in charge as to when to deploy them.

Howard said there will be standard operating procedures written for use of the gear.

Bucknam said he purchased three external vests earlier in the year to try them out. Cpl. CJ Viera, officers Tim Williams and Jacob Boudreau have been field testing the vests for about four months.

“Chief Howard and I liked the uniformity with both departments, which shows a united front,” he said. “In the event Skowhegan officers need to enhance their ballistic armor for certain events, these external carriers are able to take a ballistic plate which increases their protection. This will alleviate additional vests being bought for officers saving the Police Department thousands of dollars.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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