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Calaveras County Gets New Emergency Equipment

By Craig Koscho

Calaveras County´s Office of Emergency Services is celebrating the New Year with some new and much-needed equipment.

A $196,000 Homeland Security Grant has been put to good use, upgrading the gear for the crews that clean-up hazardous waste messes and disarm explosive devices.

Among the new gizmos is a robot that performs a number of functions and can serve a number of uses.

The robot, nicknamed Spot by OES team members, is designed primarily to help assess the danger from explosive devices.

It travels on caterpillar tracks, has a mechanical arm and claw for manipulating items, even turning doorknobs; five cameras; and it can extend up to a height of four feet, said sheriff´s Capt. Clay Hawkins, local OES director.

“It´s not real sexy,” Hawkins said, adding that it could be a real life-saver, though.

The robot can be sent in to assess just how delicate the situation is before they risk sending in an officer.

The mobile unit won´t be used in every case, but will be driven up to devices that may be booby-trapped or sensitive to movement.

As an example, Hawkins said it would have come in handy when authorities found a stick of dynamite armed with a blasting cap this year.

It can also be equipped with an instrument to detect airborne contaminants and be sent into drug labs to test the air for chemical residue.

Spot is housed in the division´s new bomb squad truck.

The heavier vehicle has a larger enclosed housing on the rear. Unlike the old model, this time the housing is air conditioned so officers will have some place to cool off when an emergency requires them to don their protective gear in the middle of a scorching summer day.

The new equipment will help meet the division´s fight against an ever increasing number of incidents involving some type of explosives.

Since the county developed and expanded its capabilities in 1997 to handle explosive ordinance, the numbers of such incidents have climbed.

In some cases, such as with pipe bombs, they track along with increases in other types of illegal activities, such as methamphetamine laboratories, Hawkins said.

Seven years ago, the county´s bomb squad members disarmed or safely detonated three pipe bombs. This year they had to deal with 16 of them.

But illegal devices aren´t the only items that keep the bomb squad hopping.

Because Calaveras County experienced so much mining activity, people tend to come across old, unstable dynamite and other explosives from time to time.

“We find it everywhere,” Hawkins said.

Other items purchased with the grant money are satellite radios that will greatly improve communication in the field where the county´s hilly terrain can block out conventional radio signals.

Read More At: The Calaveras Enterprise