Los Angeles firefighters are prepared in case they are attacked while responding to a call, as was the case in western New York Monday when two volunteer firefighters were killed and two others seriously injured when they were ambushed by a gunman who had once served time for beating his grandmother to death with a hammer.
New York police believe the attack was a trap orchestrated by William Spengler, 62, who died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Bullet proof vests became required equipment for members of the Los Angeles Fire Department after the 1992 riots, when firefighters battling blazes became targets of people with guns.
But because weight is key – uniform basics add about 50 pounds or more, and that's not counting the necessary equipment – firefighters aren’t able to strap on a ballistics vest for every call.
"We can't always be going into a fire thinking that we will potentially get shot at or stabbed," Lenske said.
"Assaults, stabbings or shootings, anything that could potentially risk any of our safeties as firefighters, those are where we are going to wearing our protective clothing."
A bulletproof vest adds another 5 to 10 pounds. It can also limit responders’ mobility.
Lenske said the situation in upstate New York would not have required wearing the best because the call came in as a fire. That’s why information from the scene before firefighters arrive is vital, he added.
"We do rely on our citizens to be involved,” Lenske said. "Maybe they saw a fire, but at the same time heard something. They heard gunshots going off. Those are big key points."
If firefighters respond to a dangerous situation in which vests are required, Lenske said responders will wait for Los Angeles Police Department officers to clear and secure the scene before firefighters can head inside.
Lenske said the department is deeply saddened by what happened in New York: they are brothers and sisters, no matter the distance.