It’s a day many people in Colorado Springs will always remember, especially first responders.
“When you see active shooter on your computer screen, it’s almost the worst case scenario, and affects you, and it affected me,” Jake Skifstad said.
A shooter opened fire at New Life Church on December 9, 2007. It was that day the former Colorado Springs police officer said he started thinking about the safety of first responders and the changes needed.
“That soft vest I was wearing is only designed to stop handguns,” Skifstad said. “My first thought was what would I have done if I were one of the first guys there.”
Eight years later, there was another mass shooting, on Black Friday at Planned Parenthood.
“When I was driving down there as part of the tactical unit, I’ll never forget hearing those officers on the radio,” Skifstad said. “They were saying they were pinned down by gunfire. It just broke my heart because they didn’t have the protection.”
Skifstad has made it his mission since then to get all first responders outfitted with the protective ballistic gear. He created the nonprofit SHIELD616.
“We have completely outfitted El Paso County,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to be done, but as far as the El Paso County section, the nine agencies located within, El Paso County Sheriff and CSPD. Even the game wardens, they’re all fully equipped.”
At $2,500 a unit, outfitting a single officer isn’t cheap. Fundraising is always key. That’s where the community comes in.
“I think what makes it so unique, we’re not just asking for funds to get the gear, but it’s also building a relationship,” Skifstad said.
Battalion chief Tim De Leon of the Colorado Springs Fire Department can attest to this relationship with the community.
“What SHIELD616 does, it also connects us to the community,” De Leon said. “Our firefighters know the community supports them.”
Unfortunately, firefighters also find themselves caught in the crossfire of active shooters.
“We are seeing a similar evolution with the fire service,” De Leon said. “The industry standard is having firefighters trained in life support, to go into the hot zone.”
Since they started in their quest to get equipped with vests a year ago, two of the 22 fire stations in the city, are totally equipped, with 64 vests donated.
All of this year’s Hometown Heroes will be honored by the Red Cross during an awards banquet held at the Broadmoor on March 14.