November 7, 2018. A mass shooter had just opened fire on a crowd of partygoers at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California. Screaming patrons running out of the bar caught the attention of a nearby pair of California Highway Patrol officers and Sergeant Ron Helus from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. The three men rushed to the scene and made entry into the dark bar, filled with smoke from smoke grenades the shooter had thrown during the beginning of his massacre. The shooter, who was taking cover inside the front office, had been watching the men through security cameras and decided to engage Sergeant Helus, shooting him five times in the chest. One of the Highway Patrol officers, confused and disoriented by the smoke, fired his rifle in the general direction of the shooter, but instead struck Helus in the back. The bullet pierced Helus’s heart and killed him.
Now, Sergeant Helus was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, but it had been expired for 14 years. Not only that, but it was a soft armor vest that was never meant to take rifle fire. In the after action report of the incident, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department recognized the need to track the expiration dates of their body armor and notify personnel when necessary. They also saw that officers needed additional protection to meet rifle threats in the form of a tactical vest which could be worn over their soft armor. Because of this unfortunate tragedy, every deputy in Ventura County now has access to plate carriers stored away in their vehicles reserved for extremely dangerous situations.
Now, if you’re a civilian, what does this mean to you? First, you should know most soft armor is not guaranteed to protect you against rifle fire, and every precaution should be taken to ensure you have adequate threat protection. Second, body armor expires, and it would behoove the responsible body armor owner to keep track of his vest’s expiration date. Think of body armor like a fire extinguisher. The little red tank is always there, sitting quietly in its glass case in the corner. You hope you’ll never have to use it, but if your house catches fire fifteen years after you buy it, and you reach for your fire extinguisher only to watch in horror as it fizzles out, this is not exactly the most ideal situation. In the same way, body armor usually lasts about five years, which is the same length of time as BulletSafe’s warranty. You’ll think it’ll work until it won’t, and the moment it stops working is when you’ll need it most.
With this in mind, it is genuinely unwise to buy used bulletproof vests from places like police and military surplus stores. If a seller states the vest is older than five years and you intend to use it for something other than a costume, do not buy the vest. Some people buy used vests for economic reasons, but BulletSafe remains committed to selling body armor at affordable costs. As of this writing, BulletSafe vests are still only $299.97, a much more affordable price than some individuals are charging for police surplus.
Not only do bulletproof vests expire, but they can also be damaged outside of regular wear and tear. Generally, it’s best to store your vest in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. The aramid fibers used to construct BulletSafe vests loosen with heat and humidity. Vests expire rapidly with daily use, but in some situations, the vest should be replaced immediately.
For example, if your bulletproof vest is ever immersed in water for an extended period of time, say, in a washing machine, the cohesion of the aramid fibers is jeopardized. While NIJ standard 0101.06 requires a bulletproof vest to be put into water for 30 minutes before testing, this does not mean that a wet NIJ certified vest should be relied upon for safety. A paper published in the Textile Research Journal concluded that aramid fabric loses its tensile strength after being sprayed with water for only three minutes. In the test, a 9x18mm Makarov round was fired at both wet and dry vests. 20 wet layers of aramid fiber failed to stop the round from punching through, but 14 dry layers of the same material were sufficient enough to prevent penetration.
Lastly, you should also consider disposing of your vest after it’s been compromised in any way. If a vest is shot, stabbed, or otherwise broken, this does not mean the vest is still safe. Any damage from shots or stabs in the armor play havoc on the resistance of the ballistic fibers by unraveling them. Once a vest is shot or otherwise damaged it should immediately be replaced.
If you’re a BulletSafe customer and one of our vests happened to save your life, we will gladly replace the vest free of charge as long as a police report is provided.
Did you know bulletproof vests could expire? How have you been taking care of your own armor? Tell us in the comments below.