Another layer of protection for firefighters

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BRATTLEBORO — Two local businesses chipped in to make firefighters feel safer when responding to calls unrelated to fire.

Edwin Dews, president of Champion Overhead Door on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro, said he heard of the need for ballistic vests through one of the firefighters, then had a conversation with the chief.

"He felt there was a need so I jumped on it," said Dews.

Dews said firefighters are dealing with a lot of things he didn't have to during his days as a volunteer firefighter in New Hampshire and Maine that ended about 15 years ago. His company supports area fire departments by participating in raffles or fundraisers.

Rashed Kanaan, president of Bradley Labs on Bennett Drive in Brattleboro, said the fire chief had been mentioning the vests and "we thought that it was a great idea."

"We've had a long standing partnership with the fire department in town for decades, and we try to do something every year," said Kanaan, whose company regularly contributes to the Brattleboro Fire Benefit Association which raises money for equipment and projects.

With recent donations from the two businesses, Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said the department purchased eight Safe Life ballistic vests from Ben's Uniform, of Amesbury, Mass., at $600 a piece.

"They're all here," he said Tuesday inside his office.

Bucossi said he was working on drafting policy around use of the vests in hopes of having vests on firetrucks by the end of the week. The sooner that happens, he said, the safer his crew will be.

Each vest has three components: A carrier, an insert called "soft body armor" and a ballistic plate.

"The soft armor protects against stabs, slashing, all handguns and some small caliber rifle rounds," Buccosi said, adding that the ballistic plate offers additional protection but there are bullets that could pierce it.

Bucossi had been waiting to hear back on two grants the town applied for to get vests. If those are awarded, he will be able to outfit more of the department. He hopes to eventually have a vest for each member.

The plan for now is to have three vests at the West Brattleboro station and three at Central Station downtown. The chief and assistant chief will each get one.

But not everyone is on the same page yet.

"To be honest, I think there's some mixed emotions about having them and wearing them," Bucossi said. "It's something we've talked about for a couple of years and I kind of held off on ordering them."

Bucossi looks at the vest as another layer of protection when his crew responds to domestic violence incidents and overdoses, calls that he said have become the norm. He said no one has been stabbed or shot yet but a recent overdose solidified his position on wanting the vests.

"Several of this person's friends were there and obviously they were distraught and it wasn't a good atmosphere," said Bucossi, who was at the scene. "They were nasty. They were obviously worried about their buddy but at the same time didn't like the idea of all the cops and firefighters being there. It wasn't a real safe environment. That's when I made up my mind that we were going to make the purchase one way or another. If we got the grants or some other way, we were going to buy these vests."

Bradley Labs has been in Brattleboro since it was incorporated in 1939. Champion moved to Brattleboro in 2014 after being in Dummerston since it opened in 2001.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at

cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR

on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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