Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2006
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2006 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.
Note: The Journal does not publish letters from writers outside its 
daily home delivery circulation area.
Author: Monte Mitchell
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Squad, A Reaction To Dangerous Meth Labs, Will Use Special Suits

Wilkes County now has an FBI-certified bomb squad that will serve a 
10-county area in Northwest North Carolina.

The regional squad was formed in response to dangers encountered at 
clandestine methamphetamine labs, said Wilkes Sheriff Dane Mastin.

"Those chemicals are so volatile, they are incendiary and explosive 
in nature," he told Wilkes County commissioners last night.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a budget transfer that was 
the last action needed to pay for a special suit designed to protect 
the wearer from explosions and chemical or biological agents.

The $15,000 bomb suit is made of an advanced material so secret that 
its composition is classified, said Capt. Doug Cotton, the commander 
of the bomb squad.

"It's the best bomb suit in the world," he said. "It's the latest one."

The bomb suit weighs 80 pounds and includes a helmet, visor, fan and 
communications capabilities.

Mastin said that the suit looks like "the Michelin Man with a 
helmet," except that it's olive green.

Major Chris Shew, a member of the bomb squad, said that even a 
high-tech bomb suit won't adequately protect someone from a direct explosion.

Squad members follow guidelines about time, distance and shielding, 
and the extra shielding adds to safety.

Cotton said that it's not just the chemicals at meth labs that are dangerous.

"We were finding booby traps, pipe bombs," he said.

The department had relied primarily on a bomb squad from Gastonia, 
about a 2 1/2 -hour drive away. Sometimes, the Winston-Salem squad 
was available.

The Wilkes County Sheriff's Office got the bomb suit in late 
December. The 10-member squad has used it in training, but not on an 
actual call. Two weeks ago, the FBI approved the squad as a regional 
bomb-handling team.

Last night, commissioners approved the transfer of $10,000 that was 
already in the sheriff's budget. The other $5,000 for the bomb suit 
came from a homeland-security grant.

The bomb squad is also outfitted with equipment that includes an 
X-ray machine, a device to destroy a bomb before detonation and a 
trailer with a protective pot that allows bombs to be hauled away. 
The response vehicle is an older county ambulance that could no 
longer be used to transport patients.

About half the money for the Wilkes County bomb squad came from 
donors who wished to remain anonymous, Cotton said.

"We couldn't have done it without them. It's that simple," he said.

The rest of the money came from a variety of grants.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom