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Fairmont Police Department: Vest upgrade helps officers

Above: Sergeant Michael Beletti and Officer Joshua Nelson of the Fairmont Police Department display their new load-bearing vests. The vests provide ease of access to important equipment, as well as a more even, and safer, weight distribution.

FAIRMONT — Keeping with a recent theme, the Fairmont Police department is sporting another new look. After recently receiving new patches and a new vehicle design, officers are now wearing some new equipment.

After some extensive research, officers have received load-bearing vests which allow for a safe and even weight distribution for vital equipment. Sergeant Michael Beletti and Officer Joshua Nelson share how the decision was made, and what impact it has on officers’ health and day to day duties.

“We have a uniform and equipment committee with the Fairmont Police Department that’s comprised of officers through our four agencies.” said Beletti. “That’s a specific duty assigned to officers where they just do research on uniforms and equipment.”

According to information from the Eau Claire Police Department, the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire, Mayo Clinic, and the department itself, conducted a collaborative research project on the health benefits of load-bearing vest carries in comparison to the traditional police duty belt.

According to the reasearch, policing is a physically demanding profession. Officers wear a duty belt with over 20 punds of equipment, spend extended periods of time seated in a police vehicle and deal with combative people.

Beletti notes that injury is a very real concern for many officers.

“A common injury in law enforcement, due to the heavy weight that we carry around on our duty belts, is some lower back issues and hip pain.”

Nelson stated that another matter addressed by the vests has to do with ease of function. In order for me to keep everything on my belt, it has to be wrapped around my entire body. So then I have equipment located in the back, which is hard to get to.

“For smaller officers, this [vest] provides much more ease of access for them. They are able to get to their handcuffs easier, my own radio was on my back. These are crucial things that we need to have access to.

“It also helps with ease of waking,” Nelson continued. “Within the first week, I noticed just going up the steps was very very easy to do again. When you have all this weight just bouncing around, this vest is a lot more secure to my body.

“Up until this last year, I’ve never had issues with my hips. Then I started to get a pinched nerve that was bothering me to the point where I was having to get out of the squad car every hour just to stretch and walk around. Since we’ve gone to these, that has essentially been eliminated.”

Beletti noted that another officer in the department is also seeing relief from hip and lower back pain.

“We do see injuries from this, and while the vests provide ease of access, we’re deffinitly looking at it from a welness standpoint. This is going to reduce worker compensation claims due to injuries, so it’s not only tactical, but it’s part of our wellness program. This is one step in the right direction.”

“The biggest thing is that we carry all this weight on our bodies for 10 hours a day,” said Nelson. “You figure that over the course of their lifetime of 20 to 30 years, and that’s a lot of weight on your body for a long period of time. So the big focus is that while we want you to have a good career, we also want you to have a [healthy] body when you get done with this career.”

Beletti shared that the research was conducted last year, and the vests were ordered in June. Now, having been in use for just a couple of months, all officers are looking forward to benefiting from the new vests. He also noted that Fairmont officer Colin Hagert was instrumental in conducting the research for the department.

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