KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville firefighters will soon wear a piece of gear some never thought would be necessary. 

The department will purchase more than 100 bulletproof vests to keep their first responders safe in dangerous situations where guns and weapons could be involved. From mass shootings to domestic calls, firefighters are increasingly exposed to potentially life-threatening circumstances. 

"Fire, buildings collapsed, things like that, that’s part of the territory we’re aware of," said Captain DJ Corcoran with the Knoxville Fire Department. "Being shot at, that’s something new to us."

Bulletproof vests will soon be added to the tools firefighters carry onboard their trucks. The department plans to purchase one for every firefighter on shift at any given time, around 100 coming with a total price tag of nearly $100,000. 

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero made the announcement Friday at her State of the City address.

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While the protocol for how firefighters will wear their vests is still being worked out, they will likely not be required to wear them at all times. The use of the vests will depend on the call and the circumstances. 

"I see it being worn more on domestic calls, shooting type situations," said Corcoran. "It’s a sad day that we’re even having to discuss this, that firefighters, the people in the community to help you, that we have to consider this that we may become a target ourselves."

Knoxville is far from the first to equip firefighters with protective armor. KFD says firefighters in Memphis and Chattanooga have been issued vests as well. It’s all so they can begin treating victims even before a threat is over. 

KFD
Marc Sallinger

"What we’re finding in situations like Sandy Hook and Columbine is that if the person is still in there on the loose, there’s people in there dying," said Corcoran. "It’s sad to say, but it’s just a sign of the times."

Rural Metro is also considering equipping its firefighters with bulletproof vests. 

KFD says there are no plans to arms their firefighters with guns, but that is not out of the realm of possibility in the future.