Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor: A Guide to Proper Fit, Wear & Care
Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor: A Guide to Proper Fit, Wear & Care

Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor: A Guide to Fit, Wear & Care In the blink of an eye, it can mean the difference
between life and death. Most law enforcement officers regard it as
necessary equipment, perhaps the most important protective gear they may use in a day. To ensure body armor provides the best protection
for you, three things must be considered: proper selection, proper measurement and fit,
and proper care. Proper selection of body armor means choosing
a model that meets your needs as an officer and that is certified by the National Institute
of Justice (NIJ). First, the threats that you are most likely
to face are the most important consideration in selecting your body armor. For everyday wear, you should, at a minimum,
select the level of armor that will protect you from your own handgun in the event that
it is taken from you during a struggle. Additionally, you may want to consider some
common threats you may encounter on a daily basis. After identifying the appropriate level, you
should choose an armor model that has gone through NIJ’s compliance testing program
and is listed on the NIJ Compliant Product List. Guidance related to protection levels and
a list of compliant products can be found on POLICEARMOR.ORG. Proper measurement and fitting is the second
key to a vest that protects you well. FBI Uniform Crime Reports show that, for the
past 10 years, 28% of officers killed while wearing body armor were killed by rounds hitting
unprotected areas of the torso. While body armor is your most important protective
equipment, a single round exploiting a gap in a poorly-fitting armor could have devastating
results. Being properly measured for your body armor
and having it fitted and adjusted to you are both necessary to obtain sufficient coverage
of your torso and vital organs while allowing you full range of motion to perform your duties. It is to your advantage to understand measurement
and fitting, and NIJ provides free access to an ASTM Standard Practice for Wearer Measurement
and Fitting of Body Armor – this document gives detailed descriptions and instructions
for necessary measurements plus guidance on how to assess whether your body armor fits. NIJ has also developed 3 brochures that you
can download for free. Two are measurement data sheets – one for
males and one for females – and the other is a personal armor fit assessment with steps
you can take to check whether your body armor fits and has sufficient coverage. The personal armor fit assessment is so important
that we’d like to walk you through the steps. After you receive your body armor and while
wearing your typical undershirt, duty belt, and pants, you should put it on and adjust
it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then, perform the following checks to assess
the fit and coverage: Take 5 deep breaths. If you are not able to take deep breaths without
restriction, loosen the side straps slightly. Repeat this step until you can take deep breaths
comfortably. Next, check your body armor for proper coverage:
Sit comfortably with your arms at your sides. Check the front panel to ensure the top edge
reaches your suprasternal notch (V) at the base of your neck and the bottom edge reaches
the top of your duty belt. Note: If the armor seems to be too high or
low on your torso, adjust the shoulder straps, and repeat this step. Stand comfortably with arms at your sides. Check the front panel to verify the bottom
edge is no more than 2 to 3 finger widths from the top of your duty belt. Check the armhole area to ensure the armor
is flush with your torso and there are no gaps between your torso and the armor. Check the back panel to ensure the top edge
extends vertically to the most prominent vertebra at the neck and the lower edge is near the
top of your duty belt and is level with the lower edge of the front panel. Stand comfortably with your arms raised slightly
out from your sides. Check both sides of the armor: The top edge
on each side should be no more than 3 inches from your armpit and the bottom edge should
be near the top of your duty belt. There should be at least 2 inches of overlap
of the front and back panels. Make sure that the upper and lower edges between
the front and back panels on each side line up. Check your body armor to make sure you
can perform your duties while wearing it: Assume your handgun shooting stance. There should be little to no bicep rubbing
or discomfort, tingling in arms or hands, or interference with arms. Reach to the center back of your duty belt,
as if reaching for restraints, to ensure there is no interference when reaching back. Squat for 10 seconds to ensure the vest does
not cause pinching at your sides or near your duty belt and does not cause choking at your
neck. Sit in the driver’s seat of your vehicle,
fasten your seatbelt, and place your hands on the steering wheel. The vest should not cause pinching at your
sides or near your duty belt and should not cause choking at your neck during these movements. These steps and more are detailed in the personal
armor fit assessment, and we recommend that you assess your fit whenever you receive new
body armor or if your weight changes significantly. Any problems found during the assessment should
be brought to the attention of your supervisor. The final key to ensuring your body armor
protects you well is proper care. It is recommended that you periodically remove your ballistic panels from the carrier and inspect them. Check for cuts, tears, stitching separation,
sealing problems and excessive wear, all of which could expose the ballistic materials
to moisture and other degrading factors. Carriers that rub the panel covers as a result
of normal flexing can wear through the cover and expose the ballistic material to moisture. This could cause degradation of the material
and lessen the body armor’s effectiveness. Also, periodically inspect the label. If the label is becoming illegible or shows
signs of excessive wear, it should be replaced. It is important that you be able to identify
the model and protection level of your body armor in case there is a safety recall. When checking the label, note the issue date
and compare it to the manufacturer’s ballistic warranty which is also on the label. If your vest is close to or beyond its declared
warranty period, you should talk to your supervisor about your departments planned replacement
policy. A second aspect of proper care is cleaning. Periodically remove your ballistic panels
from the carrier and clean them per the manufacturer’s instructions. The general cleaning instructions include
the following: The general industry procedure for cleaning armor panels is as follows: Remove
the ballistic panels from the carrier. Wipe the outer panel cover using a damp sponge
or soft cloth and cold water. Air-dry the panels flat, avoiding folding
or creasing the panels while they dry. Once dry, re-insert the panels into the carrier
ensuring that the wear face of each panel will be toward your body when you put the
body armor on. No chemicals, other than those specified by the manufacturer, should be used when cleaning the panels. Bleach or starch, even when highly diluted, may reduce the protection level. Do not rinse, soak, submerge or spray the
armor panels. Any superficial smudges, marks or soiling
that remain should not harm the armor panel integrity. Never dry soft armor panels outside, even
in the shade, as exposure to ultraviolet light is known to cause degradation of certain types
of ballistic materials. It is also necessary to periodically clean
the carrier, and the general industry procedure for cleaning carriers is as follows: Remove
detachable straps and fasteners from the carrier. If straps and fasteners are not detachable,
place them in their secured position. Unless the supplier specifically advocates
machine washing, hand wash the carrier in cold water with a mild detergent for delicate fabrics. Rinse the carrier thoroughly and hang up indoors to air dry. Improper cleaning can damage a ballistic panel, and damaged panels can cause the body armor to fail when shot. You should never dry-clean, machine wash,
or machine dry your ballistic panels. Detergents, dry-cleaning solvents, and laundry
equipment can damage or degrade panels. The final step for proper care is storage. You should always store your body armor as recommended by the manufacturer, but some general guidelines include the following:
Store your body armor flat at room temperature in a dry place that minimizes exposure to
direct light. If you prefer to hang your body armor, hang
it from a specially designed robust hanger made for body armor. Do not hang your vest by the carrier straps,
as this may cause the straps to stretch and lose their original shape and fit. If your body armor is damp, turn it inside
out or open and lay it flat to allow moisture to evaporate. You should always air-dry damp armor prior
to storage. You should not store your body armor in a
low airflow environment, such as the bottom of a locker, nor in a potentially extreme
hot or cold place, such as the trunk of a car. Of course, your body armor does not make you
bullet-proof, but it does greatly increase your chances of survival if you are shot. It is critical that you select an appropriate
model based on protection level, make sure it fits and is adjusted properly to you, and
care for it properly. One final note of caution is that ballistic-resistant
body armor is not designed to protect against edged blades or stabbing weapons. Stab armor standards and compliant products
can be found on POLICEARMOR.ORG, too. The bottom line is: Wearing body armor provides
an added level of protection for you as you perform your duties on the job. Body armor has saved the lives of many of your colleagues. It can be a life-saver for you, too! Stay Safe.

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