Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have an important, stressful job that seems to just keep getting more and more dangerous. It’s so dangerous now that it makes sense for them to wear body armor in a lot of big cities and areas that are known for gang and drug-related violence.
What is the best body armor for EMS personnel? The best armor for EMS is going to be level II and level III-A body armor. These armor types protect against pistol rounds which EMS personnel are most likely to come in contact with while they’re responding. Level 2 protects against common pistol rounds and level 3-A protects against higher power pistols.
What’s the best body armor for EMS and why? Keep reading to get the full explanation.
- Best Body Armor for EMS
- EMS Body Armor
- How to Choose the Best Body Armor for EMS
- Level II Body Armor for EMS
- Level III-A Body Armor for EMS
- Stab Proof Vests
- Does Body Armor Need to be Replaced
- Do You Need (or Want) Rifle Protection
- How to Choose the Best Body Armor for EMS
- Top Body Armor for EMS
Gang and drug-related violence are on the rise across the country. Responses to assaults, domestic violence, overdoses, and attempted suicides are also high risk.
This is making already dangerous jobs in EMS even more dangerous, but what is the best way to make it a little safer? Body armor could be an answer to that question.
Almost all civilians across the U.S. are allowed to buy and wear body armor, but it can be different for EMS depending on the policies of the specific companies and cities they work for. For the most part, EMS have the option to wear body armor if they choose to.
Don’t feel like reading the whole article? The Spartan Armor Systems Concealable Level IIIA Vest is our top selection for EMS body armor.
Choosing the best body armor for EMS means balancing the tasks they’re typically required to do with the amount of protection needed for the environment. Luckily, rifle fire is not a common threat in America yet so we can already rule out level III and level IV body armor which tends to be too heavy for most people to wear all day long.
This leaves us choosing between level II and level III-A body armor. Both are soft armors that stop pistol rounds with level III-A armor being able to stop almost all pistol threats and level II armor being lighter, but not able to stop very high power pistol calibers.
Level II body armor is a common choice for EMS personnel. It’s light, relatively unobstructive and cheaper than armor that provides more protection.
These vests are made up of layers of ballistic fibers (such as Kevlar) that slow down and trap bullets as they pass through the layers. It’s also the minimum level of protection that I recommend for anyone buying body armor.
Level II armor has the added advantage of being able to be concealed, which can make certain situations less stressful for the victims since it doesn’t look like their medical aid is showing up ready for war. This doesn’t weigh very heavily with me, but it’s a concern that I’ve seen raised several times in certain circles.
According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), level II body armor must be able to stop a 124 gr 9mm Full Metal Jacket round at 1305 ft per second. It also has to be tested to stop a .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point weighing 158 gr at a velocity of 1430 ft per second.
This covers most of the pistol calibers and types of ammo that you’re most likely to encounter in cities and high crime areas of the U.S.
|Body Armor Level||Effective Against These Calibers|
|II||9 mm FMJ, at ~1,175 fps|
.357 JSP at ~1,400 fps
The weight of level II body armor depends on the size of the panel and the manufacturer, but it usually falls between 1 and 1.25 lbs per panel. A full level II ballistic vest is about 5 lbs.
Level III-A body armor is a great option for EMS in high crime and violent cities. It’s still pretty light and unobstructive, but it provides a higher level of protection than level II does.
It remains concealable if that’s what’s needed for the situation but a lot of level III-A armor is worn on the outside of clothing in a carrier of some kind.
Level III-A armor stops bullets in the same way that other soft armor does. It’s made of layers of ballistic material that slows the bullet as it passes through and then catches the bullet before it can penetrate the body of the person wearing it.
There is level III-A body armor that is made out of steel. It’s designed to provide both ballistic and stab protection. I have to advise against it.
If you feel that you need to wear steel plates, you’re much better off getting level III plates which weigh about the same, cost about the same, provide stab and slash protection, and add protection from common rifle rounds. Steel level III-A armor just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
According to the NIJ, level III-A body armor has to be able to stop a 125 gr .357 SIG Full Metal Jacket Flat Nose round at 1470 ft per second. It also has to be tested to stop a .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point weighing 240 gr at a velocity of 1430 ft per second.
This takes all of the common threats and adds on larger caliber and higher velocity rounds that you may come across.
|Body Armor Level||Effective Against These Calibers|
|III-A||9 mm FMJ at ~1,400 fps|
.44 Magnum Semi-Jacketed Hollow Point at ~1,400 fps
Level III-A body armor weighs about 5 or 6 pounds for a complete vest so it’s not going to hinder you a lot, but you’ll notice that it’s there. The panels usually come in between 1.1 and 1.25 lbs. each.
Level II and level III-A armor aren’t stab-proof or slash-proof. The fibers used in ballistic vests are stronger than normal materials but they aren’t going to stop a knife or other sharp instrument.
Knives cut and pierce through the layers of the vest and will eventually allow the blade through. You can get some level of protection but nothing that’s certified. If you need stab-proof armor, you can read all about it here.
A different option for stab proof armor is to have hard plates over your soft armor. Hard plates will stop knives but they’re also heavy.
One thing to consider when you make a body armor purchase is that will need to be replaced periodically. If you don’t wear your vest very often then you may feel comfortable letting it go past its due date, but for EMS that are wearing their vests every day, you should stick to the expiration date pretty closely.
Over time, the fibers that make up the panels in your armor will wear, deteriorate and loosen. The more active you are in your armor and the more that you sweat, the faster this is going to happen.
Soft body armor usually has an expiration date 5 years after it’s manufactured.
Other types of armor expire at different rates based on the types of materials used to make them and the specific manufacturer.
Body armor doesn’t just hit a certain date and stop working, but it does degrade over time. Thee expiration date is probably a conservative date from the manufacturer so they can be sure that the armor will always work to the level that it’s supposed to.
You can keep wearing body armor after it expires, but you take that risk yourself. With something as important as your life, I personally wouldn’t suggest risking it.
Rifle protection is an option for EMS if they really want it. Level III and level IV body armor will both add a level of protection from rifle rounds.
I don’t see rifle threats being widespread enough that I would recommend getting a dedicated level III or IV vest for use all the time, but it may be an option as an add on over your lower-level armor.
If you’re in an area that sees a lot of rifle fire or you want to get an extra level of protection just in case, then I’d go with a plate carrier that you can put on over your soft armor in case you need it.
I’d just have it in the rig and grab it if you need it based on the specific call. Wearing it all through the shift is going to get exhausting and you’re not responding in Afghanistan.
Level II and level III-A body armor are the best armor choices for EMS. These soft armors will protect against most of the threats that they’re likely to see in the streets and during emergency responses.
Level II Armor – I’d choose level II armor in areas where there is very little threat of gunfire. It’s a little bit lighter and can be concealed just a little bit better than level III-A armor.
Level III-A Armor – Level III-A armor makes sense for larger cities where the threat of getting shot is more likely. It’ll stop just about any pistol round that you’re likely to run into.
Level III Armor – Level III armor makes sense to me as a back up to soft armor that you’d wear all the time. Having a plate carrier available that you can throw on over your soft armor is great in case you have to respond to an active shooter with a rifle.
Level IV Armor – Level IV armor is going to stop nearly all rifle rounds (including green tip 5.56mm ammo) that someone is likely to have. Level IV plates in a plate carrier that you can grab will give you the best protection that you can get from firearms.
The armor that I would pretty much universally suggest for EMS is level III-A.
Our selection for the best concealable armor for EMS is the Spartan Armor Systems Concealable Level IIIA Vest – Spartan Armor Systems has a new Level IIIA certified concealable vest. It’s lightweight, breathable, water repellant, and has a four-point adjustable strapping system.
For a more affordable concealable option, go with the AR Concealment Plate Carrier with Soft Armor – This is an AR500 Armor System option for concealability. They went for an all-new design recently that makes it even more concealable and comfortable. It offers level IIIA protection with the included armor panels.
A solid contender for the best Level III armor for active shooters is the AR500 Armor Guardian General Issue Package – This is an inexpensive, no-frills set of armor that you can quickly throw on over your uniform in the event that you need to respond to an active shooter. At less than $200 for level III plates and a carrier, it’s a pretty good deal.
The best Level II armor panels out there right now are the AR500 Armor Level II 10″ x 12″ Rimelig Soft Body Armor – These level II panels are just 1 lb each. You’ll need to pick up a separate carrier for them if this is the route you plan on going.