Delaware County will spend more than $50,000 for new equipment to keep members of the countywide EMS safe.

County commissioners voted 2-0 on March 26 to pay Phoenix Safety Outfitters $54,144 for 96 pieces of body armor for Delaware County EMS.

County EMS Chief Mike Schuiling said the request for armor reflects the unfortunate truth that first responders can become targets for violence.

"Had you asked me 20 years ago if I would be standing before you today asking for this protection, I would have said, 'Not in a million years,' " he said.

Schuiling said first responders are at a "much greater risk" for violence now than in previous decades.

The request did not go to the commissioners until other potential avenues for funding were exhausted, Schuiling said.

"We've attempted (to secure) multiple grants to find funding for this and other solutions to which we've been turned down," he said.

Schuiling said the vast number of agencies requesting grants for safety equipment may account for his department's failure to obtain money to purchase the gear.

According to the resolution passed by commissioners, the department's existing body armor is out of date. The resolution states the gear is "greater than 15 years old and no longer meets the industry standards for ballistic protection."

The request follows the deaths of two Westerville police officers, Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, who were killed by gunfire Feb. 10 after responding to a report of possible domestic violence. Schuiling said the need for new body armor was apparent when his department responded to that shooting.

"We had three vests that were compromised while the employees were donning them or putting them on," Schuiling said.

"It's becoming more and more evident that as this gear fails, it puts our people at a much greater risk."

While the county had not budgeted for the purchase of new body armor this year, Schuiling said his department was willing to make concessions in other areas to help make up the cost.

Commissioner Barb Lewis said recent events make the need for the new gear sadly apparent.

"I think this is very necessary, unfortunately," she said.