Garfield County unit prepared to jump into action when things go bad
There’s casual banter and joking amidst the gunfire.Dressed in full combat gear, 16 members of the All Hazards Response Team are training at the South Canyon shooting range.When a member takes to the range with his AR-15 rifle, and sidearm, the joking stops for him. The pops from the rifle echo throughout the canyon, then a burst from the 30-round clip leaves the target riddled and torn with bullet holes.”We have to train this way, so we’ll be ready when the call comes in,” said Tim Templon, Garfield County Undersheriff and commander of the All Hazards Response Team. “The biggest thing is that we only get one chance to be accurate.”The team will go through close to 1,000 rounds of ammunition during the day’s training. A benefit golf tournament in the spring is the main fundraiser for the team and helps them keep stocked with ammunition.Training helps prepares the team for when something bad happens – the worst-case scenario. That’s when they get the call.Funded mostly from grants from the Homeland Security Department, the All Hazards team formed in April 2005 after eight months of intense preparatory training.Ready for the worstTo some, having a team like this, which runs the gamut of duties from SWAT to helping with drug raids to taking care of hazardous material spills, it might seem a little extreme. But Templon believes very strongly that the team is needed when the you-know-what hits the fan.”We may not be called out a lot now but in a growing area like this, it’s better to have a team ready. Forming a team now showed that there was a level of proactive thinking,” Templon said.In 2005, from April through December the team was called out 22 times. So far in 2006, there have been four calls for the team. Not much, but frequency isn’t the point, Templon said.”Before we just got lucky. We were in situations where something bad could have happened but no one got hurt. When we serve search warrants, a lot of people are armed.”One recent incident involved a woman with a knife. When she lunged at a team member, she got a jolt from a Taser and was taken into custody.The most intense incident the team was involved with came in December when Sam Lincoln, a dangerous fugitive from Grand Junction was apprehended in West Glenwood (See related story).
Called for help in the pastWhen ugly situations occurred in the past, like police standoffs, fugitives on the run, or anything where an elite, well-trained team was needed, Garfield County law enforcement agencies had to call for help; usually getting calling in a specialized unit from Mesa County.All Hazards team leader Mike Tyler of the Rifle Police Department, fingers an incident in December 2003 as a perfect example.Tobie Patterson barricaded himself in a house and shot arrows and a .22-caliber rifle at officers. Mesa County responded and eventually shot the man with less-lethal bean-bag projectiles and apprehended him. He was eventually sentenced to 11 years in prison.”Now, we can take care of things a lot faster. Having that kind of cooperation with another agency is great but what if they aren’t available?” he said. “We can now take care of things ourselves.”A local team is important, Templon added.”Having an at-home team like this is good. It’s nice having others like Mesa County but when stuff hits the fan, we have to be able to take care of our community,” he said.Specialized unitBeing specialized and well trained is critical.”If something bad goes down, most regular patrol officers don’t have the training to handle the situation,” Tyler said.Templon agrees: “Small departments aren’t equipped to handle major situations but now this team can lend a hand.” It also allows the municipal agencies to concentrate on their regular duties like patrolling and providing every day services.From the weapons to the $103,000 specially designed International diesel truck, the unit is indeed specialized.
The truck can transport personnel, be used as an operation center, a negotiation center and a classroom. All the inside walls are dry-erase board that can be written on with markers. There’s also a video recorder and monitor that enables them to film a location and then play the video to team members so they’ll see what the area looks like before moving.The truck was modeled after a Hot Shots fire vehicle but since the All Hazards team is so specialized, it has a lot more bells and whistles.It’s also a fully equipped medical unit.”We must be able to provide life support services in a matter of seconds,” said Chad Harris, a team leader and a captain with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department.The medical team is made up of two paramedics, an EMT, and one emergency room doctor.All medical personnel must pass weapons and fitness qualifications just like everyone else on the team.”They are trained for defense. If they have to go help someone they have to be able to defend themselves,” Templon said.All volunteersThe multi-agency team is made up of members from Garfield County Sheriff’s Department, Glenwood Springs Police, Glenwood Springs Fire Department, Rifle Police Department and Valley View Hospital.Having such an elite team with specialized training and dedicated individuals must be a pricey endeavor.Not exactly. It’s an all-volunteer unit with the only financial burden on the agencies is to pay overtime for training.The thorough shooting range training is just one aspect of an overall training program that matches intensity with commitment. Team members must pass weapons qualification three times a year. The team is required to have 10 hours of training a week in all different areas. A rigorous fitness test also awaits team members three times a year (See related story).The team recently acquired a transportation van, which is a lot less conspicuous than their large truck.
Training is everythingTeam member Tim Fisher efficiently devoured his lunch and piled into the van with 12 other team members. It would be simulation training on entering a building, similar to how they sometimes serve search warrants on suspected drug dealers.As the van jerked to a stop, Fisher was the first on the ground as the rest of the team scurried behind him. They quickly approached a mock door, AR-15’s (free of ammunition) in the ready position. Fluidly, the team moved to the door and burst in using a metal ramming tool.The team is all about training. The training far outweighs the actual work. Templon worries that all training and minimal real action could lead to complacency.”That’s always a concern, but that’s why we make the training as real as possible,” he said.Tyler said in past situations, the team has served warrants and been involved in drug raids a lot at night, but he said they also take advantage of the early morning hours for the element of surprise. The bad guys “have to sleep sometime too” Tyler said with a smile.Ultimate jobTeam members admit training being part of the team is the ultimate job for law enforcement personnel. But when the call comes in, the rush is where the excitement peaks.”The adrenaline goes up, sure, but we have to think about what needs to be done,” Templon said. The commander said the team is still evolving and he’d like to see it grow to 22 members. For the current members, it’s all about training, being ready and taking pride in being part of a specialized unit.”I like working with a tight group of people and that’s what this is,” Fisher said. “It’s a source of great pride, and the camaraderie is great.”The team will continue to train and preparing for when something bad goes down in Garfield County.”We train for the worst. We have to be ready when stuff hits the fan,” Templon said. “We owe it to the citizens to be ready.”
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