Thursday, May 10, 2007

Civilian Police Academy - Hazardous Devices

What I'm Reading: The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

What I'm working on -- medical research for chapter 22

Our first speaker Tuesday was with the Hazardous Devices Team, and they're "da bomb". (Sorry)

As with so many other departments, the members of the team all have "real" deputy duties - they work regular shifts on patrol, motors, narcotics, SID. This means they may just be coming off a 10 or 12 hour shift and get a call out for a possible bomb. We demand much from these folks. And you know what they get? An additional $52 every paycheck, the same as everyone else who does special duty. That's $26 a week extra for being willing to walk up to something that might blow up in their faces.

Of course, they're very well trained and confident they know what they're doing. They are also the only department that can call on the military for backup. There's a lot of old ordnance --souvenirs from the wars--that people bring home and then don't know what to do with.

In Orange County, the team will accompany SWAT (I'll talk about them tomorrow). Most of the funding for the special equipment comes from federal grants, which saves the county a LOT of money.

We got to go out and see their vehicle, and the bomb suit. When new, it weighs 80 pounds. After it's been used by numerous sweating deputies, it gains weight, and the one he showed us probably weighs 100 pounds. They share suits--I didn't write it down, but I think there are 3 of them. It's not a place for the claustrophobic, and about 1/3 of the applicants drop out of training the first time they put one on. Very limited mobility, visibility, and it's HOT in there. They're not refrigerated. All they get is ambient air blown in to keep the faceplate from fogging. They have EKGs and BP readings before and after using the suits. Our speaker said the longest he's ever had to be in one was an hour and a half, and he was nearly hospitalized afterward for dehydration.

The county prides itself on state of the art equipment, and they're always trying to keep up with the technology. They have robots, lots of camera, X-ray equipment, and it's a lot better than it used to be, but there will come a time when the deputy has to climb into the suit and get up close and personal.

I asked how he deals with the fear factor -- it's gotta be scary to go someplace and decide if that unattended briefcase might explode, or if the threat at the mall is real. He said he's scared, yes, but confident he's well trained and figures if someone's going to do it, it might as well be him because he knows what he's doing.

Next time: SWAT

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