If a picture is worth a thousand words, what does this image communicate?
It was a surreal moment when this patron walked into Taco Bell wearing a bulletproof vest. “Was I safe?” was my initial thought. I instinctively scanned the dining area, then breathed a sigh of relief. All was well.
The three letters emblazoned across his chest gave evidence that he was not law enforcement but a member the Orangeburg County ambulance service. Recent reports of violent acts against public safety workers revealed that some were now wearing protective apparel. But that was only in the Low Country and the I-95 corridor, right?
Curios, I initiated a conversation. After I identified myself as a SCPSCA chaplain and presented my credentials, the young man warmed up and eagerly corrected my assumptions. He had only been on the job since September and had already heard too many reports of targeted hostilities.
Stories of violence against public safety workers emerged. Various crews had been fired on while responding to medical emergencies. One bullet would have hit a paramedic in the head if not for a splint stored in just the right spot.
You can see his partner in the background; she does not wear a bulletproof vest. When asked why she was not likewise safeguarded, all that he gave me was a roll of the eyes and the swirling index finger toward his head in a “she’s crazy” motion.
Was she being naive?
Or was this young man overreacting?
I know that this encounter caused me to personally re-evaluate the real dangers public safety workers and chaplains face. Should such precautionary measures be on our agenda?
Our local fire services and my church’s security team are considering raising necessary funds to purchase bulletproof vests. (We might want to consider such a purchase for our chaplains as well). Loosening one’s wallet or an agency’s budget for such an investment may demonstrate our concern and gratitude for these workers’ valuable service to their communities and houses of faith.
SCPSCA chaplains and public safety workers are vested with the public’s welfare. Should they be vested against bullets as well? Considering some of the hostile areas in which we serve, perhaps bulletproof vests are appropriate and would help ensure all will go home at the end of their shifts.
After obtaining permission to photograph this young EMS worker, I thanked him and his partner for their service. I also instructed them, as I often do, to “be safe out there!” Maybe it’s time to back up our prayers and well wishes with the protective apparel that many public safety workers and chaplains need in hostile work environments.
Chaplain Sunny Mooney
South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association