ROBOCOP The hero in the movie RoboCop was “part man, part machine, all cop.” While technology hasn’t advanced that far yet, the Critical Incident Response Team’s (CIRT) new robot is pretty cool and, most important, will protect police officers who are responding to high risk calls.
Created by Robotex, the Avatar II will be used for surveillance work and information gathering. Police officers can send the remote-controlled robot, which resembles a mini tank, into a house or building to look around for weapons, obstacles, hostages and, well, bad guys. The robot, which can climb stairs and roll over objects, features two cameras, an infrared light for night vision and a speaker to communicate with subjects in the building. Video captured by the robot is fed back to a screen in the hand-held remote control unit and to a TV screen in the command post.
The CIRT team used the robot a few months ago for a call regarding a barricaded individual in Bethel Park. Not sure if the house was otherwise unoccupied, the robot was sent in to check the situation. Lt. Aaron Lauth was able to negotiate the robot into every room except the locked one in which the barricaded individual was holed up. Thanks to the robot, CIRT members determined the house was clear and safe to enter.
CIRT is a specialized unit of police officers from the South Hills who respond to critical incidents—hostage situations, high-risk warrants and officer rescue—in the 19 communities that make up the South Hills Area Council of Government (SHACOG). The $15,000 robot was purchased with SHACOG funds and a grant from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
Another new weapon in CIRT’s less lethal arsenal is a long-range acoustic device (LRAD)—basically a large loudspeaker. Police officers mount the speaker on the roof of the command post vehicle and use it to communicate with barricaded individuals who refuse to respond by phone or other means. In addition, police negotiators can record a message on the LRAD that can be repeated indefinitely, or they can set it to crowd control mode and issue a high-pitched noise that causes discomfort. “You really want to get away from it,” Lauth says.
The LRAD was used successfully in July when police officers served a high risk warrant in Baldwin Borough. SHACOG purchased the $6,500 LRAD for CIRT.
NEW FIREFIGHTERS Willie Walker, Arden Road, and Jeremy Norton, Newburn Drive, are Mt. Lebanon Fire Department’s newest volunteers. Norton, a 19-year-old Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, is earning a degree in fire science at CCAC, while Walker, an Aliquippa native, played defensive end at California University of Pennsylvania and had a 2010 tryout with the Cleveland Browns before returning to the Pittsburgh area.
CITIZENS FIRE ACADEMY There’s still time to sign up for the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department’s Citizens Fire Academy, September 11 to November 2. Classes will meet primarily on Wednesdays from 7 to 10:30 p.m., but there will be at least two Saturday sessions, with the final Saturday, November 2, session held at the Washington County Fire Academy. Participants will get a chance to operate hose lines, tour the stations, cut apart vehicles with the Jaws of Life, extinguish live fires, perform simulated ladder rescues, don turnout gear, ride in the bucket of a 75-foot ladder truck and earn CPR certification. Castle Shannon and Dormont fire departments are co-sponsors and class locations will be divided among the fire departments. Registration is open to residents and business owners 18 or older in all three participating communities. Check www.mtlfd.org or call 412-343-1697 for registration forms and details.