Have tank, will rescue

Published 7:24 pm Thursday, October 23, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Niles City Police Department is now literally capable of going anywhere, at any time.
With its new amphibious rescue vehicle -- a 26,000 pound former military command post vehicle -- the city police will be able to travel through water, swamp and heavy snow to render people assistance, said Chief Ric Huff, Niles City Police Department.
He said the department received the vehicle for free through a program offered by the Department of Military Reutilization Office (DMRO) in Washington, D.C.
Approval was given by the Niles City Council before the vehicle was delivered.
The new rescue vehicle, which may look scary but will only be used for rescue operations and has no offensive capabilities, is valued at close to $400,000, Huff said.
He said the vehicle is made of 1.5 inch air craft grade aluminum and is rated through NATO 7.62 mm rounds.
Huff also said the vehicle, which has a Detroit diesel engine, travels on rubber pads when on solid ground and therefore won't damage streets.
When on soft ground, the steel tags on the belt that propels the vehicle become useful as they dig in and pull the vehicle forward, he said.
Huff said the police department put a lot of thought about public perception before accepting the vehicle from the DMRO.
He said the police department doesn't want people to think the vehicle is in any way an offensive tool.
Capt. Jim Merriman, also Niles City Police, said the vehicle is practical when worst-case scenarios occur, such as when a sniper is loose, during riots or hostage situations.
He said because of the vehicle's thick armor, police can use it as a shield when a situation requires them to.
If the city police had had the vehicle earlier this year during the Benton Harbor riots, it would probably have been used there, Merriman said.
The vehicle, that travels at a speed of 35-40 mph on land and 3 mph in the water, may also be of benefit to farmers who get injured while working in their fields.
Merriman said Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service (SMCAS) has already shown an interest in the vehicle because of its capability to go onto fields with little effort, providing ambulance personnel easy access to an injured person.
But Merriman doesn't expect the vehicle to be used often.
Merriman hopes people may be able to take a look at the vehicle during city parades, when the police and fire departments typically show their equipment.
Huff said the operational cost of the new vehicle -- the vehicle can climb a 60 degree incline -- is really less than for regular patrol cars.
Huff said the nearest similar rescue vehicle is 120 miles away.
And, the police department is more than willing to share its unique resource.
If the vehicle is needed further away then 10 to 12 miles from where it's stationed, a city street department truck is capable of carrying the rescue vehicle to where it needs to go, Huff said.
Members of the police department's tactical unit is assigned to operate the vehicle and they will receive training on how to operate the vehicle by national guardsmen, Huff said.
There are three similar vehicles in Michigan.
According to Louisiana-based United Defense, who makes the vehicle, similar vehicles continue to be used for military and peace keeping missions in over 50 foreign countries with over 18,000 still active within U.S forces.