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Body Armor Injuries: Expect the Unexpected

  • Body Armor Injuries: Expect the Unexpected

    Early on the morning of February 20, 2016, New York City police officer Andrew Yurkiw was shot three times in the chest by a suspect wielding a .357 Magnum handgun after a car chase through the rough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.To get more news about bulletproof zone, you can visit bulletproofboxs.com official website.

    Yurkiw survived but sustained a “grapefruit size” contusion to his chest, according to his father, a retired NYPD officer who ironically was also saved when a gunman fired into his bullet-resistant vest 27 years before.

    As fortunate as the Yurkiws were, body armor is not a panacea for all trauma. Its fallibility was tragically displayed during a SWAT team raid on a trailer in the small northwest New Mexico town of Gallup in May 2001. As the team of officers attempted to remove a man high on drugs hiding in a back bedroom who had been firing a weapon randomly, officer Larry Brian Mitchell entered the room amid a fusillade of fire. A single round struck him in the lateral torso between the protective chest panels. Mitchell died. A second officer was saved when a round struck him in his body armor.

    Despite this and other similar tragedies, the number of officers saved by body armor far outweighs the number killed while not wearing it. Since 1972, more than 3,000 police officers have been saved by their body armor.1

    In these violent and uncertain times, there is also a growing number of EMS personnel who wear body armor.2 This has been advocated by the Department of Homeland Security, especially when dealing with active shooter scenarios.3 According to DHS, “The incorporation of ballistic vests and the concepts of concealment and cover into the EMS and fire professions, when active shooter threats and situations warrant, will better protect first responders.”

    While the protective benefits of vests are irrefutable, there are design and anatomic implications that don’t always leave the wearer unscathed, as evidenced by the closed wound sustained by Yurkiw and the penetrating wound of Mitchell. This is why familiarity with body armor’s benefits, limitations, injury potential, assessment and removal is so pertinent to EMS personnel.


    Ballistic vests have been a staple of law enforcement since a surge in police shootings in the mid to late 1960s. The benefits of wearing body armor were supported by a 2010 study that found an officer wearing it who sustains a gunshot wound to the torso is 3.4 times more likely to survive than one who doesn’t.4 In New York City alone, 87 police officers have been saved by vests since 1978.5

    Surprisingly, some officers prefer not to wear them, and some departments don’t require them. Issues such as comfort, mobility, undercover operation and cost are among the concerns. A 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of local police departments found 71% required their officers to wear body armor at all times, while 8% required it only in some circumstances.6

    One issue agreed upon by many manufacturers and police officials is that not all vests are bulletproof. This is behind attempts to redefine the vernacular from “bulletproof” vests to “ballistic” vests or the preferred identification, “body armor.” Not only are not all body armors bulletproof, some models can’t stop a knife attack. Given the rise of ISIS-inspired attacks using knives and axes, this can be especially relevant to traumatic wound incidence and care.

    The National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice developed a ballistic-resistant body armor performance standard in 1972. This was updated in 2008 by its successor, the National Institute of Justice. At the core of the revisions was the reclassification of vests to accommodate specific bullet sizes and the contemporary threats, especially from assault rifles, law enforcement faces today (see Figure 1).7

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