Lawton_The United States Federal Government is mandating a new law to require anyone working in the right of way of a federal highway to wear improved, high visibility vests. First responders such as, police, emergency medical services, and firefighters, always have worn the reflective vests at night, but now they will be required to wear them night and day - anytime they set foot on a federally funded roadway.
They all agree that the vests are very beneficial to them - especially at night or in low visibility situations. However, they have concerns about the cost to replace old vests, and whether the new ones will get in the way of their work during the day. Being a first responder is a tough job, and safety is key. But, more often than not, Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) Trooper Tyrone Dixon says they are concerned for your safety if theirs is put in jeopardy. "Throughout the past we've had more injuries, more fatalities with troopers that have been hit by vehicles, rather than troopers that have been shot," he said.
The Federal Government is requiring new vests that are twice as reflective and bright as the old ones, and have tear away seams. But, Clint Wagstaff with Emergency Management says it's for their safety, and that of the drivers. "Drivers get tunnel vision and do not see the workers out there," he said. However, Lawton Police Chief Ronnie Smith says that replacing the old vests will not be cheap. To equip all officers with the new vests, it will cost the department about $6,000. "It's an unfunded mandate," he said. "So what are you going to do? If it's federal law, we gotta have them and are going to get them."
In addition to the expense, some first responders, such as training officer for the Lawton Fire Department, Michael Merritt, question the additional safety the vest will provide. "One of the questions that we have to ask ourselves is, whether that is that going to draw more attention to us to where the people will be looking at us and be more distracted as they drive by."
The federal mandate goes into effect November 24, and so far, first responders say the biggest issue is simply finding a vest that meets the new standards. There are some exceptions to the mandate. If responders are performing a duty that will be hindered by the colorful vests - such as a sting operation or manhunt - they will not be required to wear them.
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