About Public Safety Equipment

About Public Safety Equipment

Public safety equipment is like any other equipment—except that it has to work flawlessly every time. Police, fire and emergency medical and management workers respond to life-threatening situations and disasters every day in equipment that all too often has been provided by the lowest bidder. Most people have no idea what kind of equipment is used by the public safety personnel and how often it needs to be replaced. A trip to your local public safety building can be enlightening.


Public safety equipment is anything that public safety employees use to do their jobs, from firetrucks and ambulances to squad cameras and radar guns; emergency light bars, sirens to boots and Kevlar turn-out gear, public safety directors and chiefs have to plan for, order and maintain the equipment so that their police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and emergency management personnel have what they need to do the job at the moment they need it.


In the past firefighters brought their own buckets and the only piece of equipment a policeman used was a truncheon—what we’d call a “billy club.” Officers provided their own uniforms and firefighters showed up in whatever they were wearing at the minute. As municipalities began to assume the responsibility for public safety from volunteers (fire departments) and private companies (police), they also assumed the responsibility to provide the tools necessary to do the job. Today standards for equipment and protective gear are set by associations like the National Fire Protection Association and government organizations like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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Public safety uses everyday equipment like squad cars, firetrucks, ambulances and the equipment that each carries like radios, cameras, ladders, hoses and tanks with pumpers. Protective gear includes uniforms, self-contained breathing apparatus, boots, hats and coverings, vests and body armor. Each service requires specific personal equipment: Police carry weapons and other tools; firemen carry shovels, spanners and axes; EMTs have a vehicle full of medical supplies. Special equipment like Jaws of Life and trenchers are required for extrication and trench or underground work. Many departments, particularly those in large cities, have special equipment dictated by hazardous material or homeland security protocols.


Public safety equipment is a huge business—just search for “equipment” and the name of a department. For example, ballistic vests come in a variety of materials and constructions and must be fitted for each person who wears one; they may cost from $800 to $2,000 each. Vehicles must have special suspensions and reinforcement for the heavy use they will have. Life expectation is variable; a firetruck may be in service for two years or 20 depending on the size of the department and annual calls to which it must respond, but it must operate flawlessly throughout its life. Except for vests and turn-out gear, most equipment is used by a number of people, so it must be sturdy and easy to maintain. Choosing the right brand and quality of equipment is a time-consuming task.

Expert Insight

Police, firefighters and other public safety employees often ask for more numbers of or more sophisticated equipment than they actually need at budget time. Although some of this behavior may be attributed to wanting more “toys,” more often it’s the result of chiefs’ annual experience of being cut back in their requests. Smart managers deal honestly with public safety and get a realistic estimate in the beginning.

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