We had a jammed-packed and exciting Day 2 at Citizens' Academy. We met out at the East end of the Vero Beach Airport where IRCSO has their Hangar. The class had grown, and it felt like a real honor to be sharing the room with the IRCSO Helicopter (known as "The Hawk"!) and other all-terrain vehicles they use.
First up we met Sgt. Pat White and Deputy Jim Dixon of the K-9 unit. Veteran Nacho and 20-month old Ruckus gave us quite a show, as they demonstrated skills and training. I got a little carried away with photos - so check out the 100+ photos here:
I thought it was fascinating to learn that these dogs have a sense of smell that is approximately 42 times better than humans! Sgt. White used the analogy that when we walk into a McDonald's, we smell one big mix of scents, whereas the dogs can smell the onion, the lettuce, the meat, the mustard, the individual scents of each person in line, and so on.
We learned that the K-9's tracked and made five apprehensions just that past week alone!
The dogs each have one handler, and they are first matched for compatibility. The dogs understand German commands and they read their handler's body language at all times. Even just a change in how the handler is standing can cause the dog to respond and do his job. The patrol cars are equipped with a device that allows the officer to remotely pop open the doors - and the dog comes bounding out! The dog is ALWAYS watching the handler. Also the dogs are loving companions and live with the handler and his family. The dog is part of that family.
NEXT we met Gene Saunders who is responsible for PROJECT LIFESAVER, a radio frequency tracking device used to find lost individuals who have Alzheimer's and Autism.
Joining Saunders was Project Lifesaver COO Tommy Farther and IRCSO Sgt. D. Morris who coordinates the Project Lifesaver program in IRC. In the late 1990's, Saunders saw a brochure for a radio frequency device to track wildlife. "I thought, if they can do that for wildlife, then we can do that for people," he said. He went to a manufacturer and developed the wrist-mounted transmitter in Chesapeake, Virginia. Visit www.projectlifesaver.org
NEXT UP was Sgt. Brad Fojtik of IRCSO's Ranch and Grove division. "These guys know every stretch of land in the far reaches of our County," said Sgt. Eric Flowers. "They know every cow and every tree. This is a huge advantage when law enforcement and fire rescue have to respond quickly in those remote areas."
"We have the right people in the right place," says Fojtik. "We love it out there in Ranch and Grove. We are always dirty, whereas the K-9 guys are always perfectly kept and model-perfect," he jokes. He is FUNNY. We were laughing all throughout his segment. All night, really! These guys have a great sense of humor. They have to, I would think, in order to be able to deal with all the horrific things they see and deal with every day.
Sgt. Brad Fojtik explained how they have many all-terrain vehicles, including UTV's, an Air Boat, Helicopter, and the extremely fast Pathfinder boat (purchased with seized drug money!) which can be in 10" of water and is often use in drowning rescues.
The Grand Finale for Day 2 of Citizens' Academy was AVIATION! Special Operations chief Steve Renuart and Deputy Shaun McGinnis walked us through the helicopter (which was obtained at no cost to taxpayers!) and their day and night vision technology. The helicopter is an excellent tool to track criminals and help with rescues, and is utilized by many local agencies (Fire Rescue, Police, Coast Guard, etc.). The spotlight on the helicopter is 30 million candles strong! Talk about a BEAM OF LIGHT! IRCSO has three pilots and they work 10 hour shifts, usually with 2 on and 1 off.
Very good reasons to take the Citizens' Academy: looking through the night vision goggles, sitting in the helicopter and feeling the wind when it takes off and up into the night sky!
I am looking forward to Day 3! See you next week!
I am an official, fully vetted volunteer with the Indian River County Sheriff's Office (Citizen's Academy, background checks, fingerprinted, etc.). Since my expertise is photo-journalism, producing these stories is one way I give back to my community.
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