CINCINNATI – A shooter in a passing car fired at two Cincinnati Fire medics in a Walnut Hills neighborhood, the union president says, and firefighters responding to that area have been told to wear bulletproof vests.
"The members believe they were shot at … that this was directed at them. It's extremely scary," Matt Alter, President of the Cincinnati Firefighter's Union Local 48, told WCPO Wednesday.
He called shooting at first responders "one of the most cowardly acts I can think (of) ...
"The firefighters were there to help. That’s what we do ... We can't help you if we become a victim," Alter said.
The shots were fired as two members of Medic 19 were making a run on Kenton Street near McGregor Avenue at approximately 4:05 a.m. on July 16, according to an email to all uniformed personnel from Assistant Chief Roy Winston, head of the Operations Bureau.
Winston said it did not look like the shooter was targeting the medics, and Chief Richard Braun agreed in an interview with WCPO. But Alter disputed that.
"As one of the members was coming around the front of the medic unit, a vehicle came down the street and shots were fired. (He) heard and felt bullets whiz by," Alter said.
"That person jumped into the medic unit to take cover. His partner was already in and was able to drive off without injuries."
Firefighters have "expired police vests," Alter said. "They're trying to get ballistic vests."
New vests would cost about $1,000 apiece, he said.
"When you have 840 firefighters, it's a very costly purchase, but if it protects one firefighter, saves one life, it's worth it," Alter said.
Alter said the incident happened almost a year to the day when a firefighter was hit in the helmet with a bullet.
"It isn't common, but we've had some close calls," Alter said.
Braun told WCPO he's in favor of getting new vests.
"You have to try to watch out for every scenario that could possibly happen and so that’s why we like to stay as protected as we possibly can," Braun said.
He said the goal is to provide a new vest for everyone in phases over several years.
As a result of this latest close call, police were requested to respond with firefighters to any call in that area of Walnut Hills "for the next few days," according to Winston's email.
While Winston said it did not look like the shooter was targeting the medics, judging from their accounts and discussions with police, he added: "It is very difficult to identify someone's intent, so who really can say for certain."
Winston warned fire personnel that these are dangerous times for first responders and to take extra precautions.
"Given the current state of affairs and the moral decline within society which places little value on human life, it is imperative that everyone use good judgment as well as safety precautions," Winston wrote in his email.
"People in the community often see us as the authority and as respect continues to wane, firefighters may be viewed like any other government entity," Winston said. "Please continue to be aware of your surroundings and the need for scene safety especially when it involves violence/crowds. However, this incident reminds us that any scene can change and become degraded at a moment's notice."