On Nov. 11, 2016, hauling the body of a limp police officer onto the floor of a SWAT vehicle, the Ada County tactical response paramedic team realized that something needed to change.
For years, paramedics called to dangerous situations would make an impromptu ambulance out of armored SWAT trucks. But emergency responders began to demand a specialized vehicle after the 2016 Boise Bench shootout which injured two Boise police officers. One of those officers is now paralyzed from the waist down.
“It definitely helped secure in people’s minds the need for this vehicle,” said Ada County Paramedics Tac Med Commander Chris Shandera.
Last week, Ada County paramedics finally received what they’ve been waiting for: an armored Lenco MedCat ambulance. The new vehicle will allow paramedics to treat patients under a direct threat from gunfire.
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Whereas when they worked in SWAT vehicles, paramedics treated patients on the floor, the new 20,600-pound ambulances allow them to transport patients securely on gurneys. It also provides better lighting and room for larger oxygen tanks than they had previously taken on runs.
The vehicles can also be weaponized — they feature a roof hatch and adjustable stand and gun ports. But Hadley Mayes, public information officer for Ada County Paramedics, said that the department is not purchasing any guns for the ambulance.
“This is not an assault vehicle; it is a defense vehicle,” said Doug Hardman, director of Ada County Emergency Management.
“One way to get to a patient faster is with protection,” Hardman said. “You can’t do that with an ambulance — you can’t drive into the scene where an assailant hasn’t been neutralized yet and get them on board.”
Ada County Emergency Management paid for the $312,000 vehicle with an annual grant it receives from the Department of Homeland Security.
Ada County officials had applied for the vehicle in 2016, after advisory groups and the Idaho Office of Emergency Management identified the need for one, Hardman said.
But the Obama administration did not approve the use of grant funds for armored ambulances. Under Trump, those restrictions were relaxed, he added.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
The paramedics’ tactical response team will train in the new vehicle in the coming weeks, Mayes said.
Several cities have recently purchased MedCats, including Milpitas and San Leandro in California in the Bay Area. The purchases were met with some protests of the militarization of local law enforcement agencies.
But Hardman says the armored ambulances merely offer an additional level of security for those on the front lines.
“We want to be prepared for the worst,” Hardman said.