LEHI — During an intense barricaded situation in Sanpete County that ended with an exchange of gunfire last month, a heavily-armored van designed by a Utah man helped protect SWAT members from a round that was headed straight toward them.
On March 19, the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office requested that the Utah County Metro SWAT teams assist with the situation at 379 N. Main Street in Spring City.
The SWAT team brought its FIST, or First-In Suppression Team, vehicle.
“(A) guy was barricaded in a house,” said Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon. “(He) came out of the door or out of a window and fired a round directly at this armored vehicle, directly at where the driver was sitting. The round impacted on the windshield.”
Officers returned fire and struck the man, identified by Sanpete County investigators as 53-year-old Paul Harward.
The van, however, had done what it was intended to do — bring SWAT team members in close proximity to the man while protecting them.
“Because of how it’s armored and the heavy-duty bulletproof glass that it has, it made a mark on the windshield and cracked it, but it didn’t penetrate at all and kept those inside safe,” Cannon said.
Harward, according to the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office, was taken to the hospital, where he was initially said to be in stable condition.
History of the FIST
A decade ago, David Acosta wanted to create a vehicle that could get in close to active shooters while protecting officers and others.
“I was like, ‘I want something that could go in a school, a university, anywhere, any building where there was a mass shooting,'” said Acosta, who has trained SWAT teams and military contractors and now helps to prepare schools for potential active shooters. “Our guys can go in there and at least have a fighting chance.”
Acosta partnered with a private investor and created the “100-percent bulletproof” FIST, a defensive police armored vehicle that can be equipped with a battering ram.
“There’s a speaker that is associated with the mirrors,” Acosta said. “The guys inside can talk to somebody, and it grabs all of the ambient sound out here and they can hear a guy just standing anywhere near the van — they can hear the guy and have a conversation with him — but inside they’re safe.”
Acosta said the base of the vehicle could withstand a grenade blast.
“Then they’ve got pneumatic gun ports,” Acosta said. “You just hit the button and it seals itself back up.”
He said police could drive the van down the hall of a university and help load bystanders inside. “You could pull up to a classroom, open this door to the door of the classroom, the kids could come in this way,” Acosta explained. “That front door opens as well, causes a second shield — so you have double ballistic protection — kids could go in here and exit out the back and leave the school.”
Acosta said he and the private investor funded the construction of the vehicle for the use of the Utah County SWAT team. After countless missions, including the latest that helped protect officers from gunfire, Acosta said the van was worth the investment.
“To get a text from a guy saying, ‘hey, man, I was in the van, we took a round today, it saved my life, thank you’ — that was pretty rewarding,” Acosta said.