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Local View: Firefighters given gear they need: Why a debate over equipping police?

As a local career firefighter, I would like to raise a few points regarding the proposed purchase of personal protective equipment by the Duluth Police Department. Clearly, we have seen the emotional nature of this proposal. To this point, both sides have raised valid concerns throughout the public process.

In my job as a firefighter, I am tasked with being ready and willing to handle any and all public emergencies: everything from minor car accidents and carbon monoxide detectors sounding to terrorism events and active-shooter situations, along with fires of all sizes.

For each of these situations, I have an appropriate style of protective equipment at my disposal. For fires, I have a thermal protective ensemble that when worn in conjunction with a breathing device allows me to work inside of a burning building without being harmed. For medical calls involving contact with bodily fluids, I have safety glasses, face masks, and protective gowns. For hazardous-materials calls, I have everything from light-thickness coveralls to fully encapsulating, specially designed suits that protect me from the very worst chemicals.

While all of this equipment keeps me safe, the end result is that it allows my coworkers and I to mitigate emergencies and protect civilians.

The fact I am equipped with all of this protective gear in no way dictates how often it gets utilized. Some of it gets worn daily, some weekly, and some of the high-level protective gear may never get worn during my career. The point is, when the alarm goes off, I am ready for whatever is needed of me.

As a public-safety employee, I can tell you that one of the greatest fears we have is not having what we need to protect the citizens we have taken an oath to serve. If something awful is happening, we want to have the tools and equipment to deal with the problem as quickly as possible. That's why we do what we do.

I am not a police officer. To be honest, I don't think I would be brave enough to handle that job. I do have friends and immediate family members who work in law enforcement. I can tell you this: Not one of them wants to be in a situation where "riot gear" is required. It's the same way I would rather not go to a scene where a chemical has spilled that is so dangerous I have to wear the highest level of protection.

That being said, I promise you those same officers would much rather have the equipment stored away if needed than have an incident occur without them being ready to protect civilians from harm.

One of my favorite aspects of Duluth is that groups with opposing views can gather and represent themselves in public places without the upheaval we tend to see in other urban areas. I believe that is an indelible mark of a healthy community.

The proposed purchase of protective equipment by the Duluth Police Department is not intended to infringe on the current conditions. Instead, it would be in place to protect the way we do things.

God forbid this city ever undergoes the violence seen elsewhere. As a public servant who works alongside police officers, I can tell you I would feel much better knowing the police officers of our city have the equipment needed to keep the city safe should the worst ever happen.

I would challenge both sides of this argument that the purchase of this equipment should be approved, and healthy dialogue should continue as to how we move forward.

Dave Werner of Esko is a career firefighter.