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DuPage sheriff rolls out new bomb disposal robot
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff

Sgt. Jim Ruff says the new bomb disposal robot bought for the DuPage County Sheriff's Hazardous Devices Unit can handle more terrain than the unit's older model robot.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

The DuPage County Sheriff's Hazardous Device Unit exploded a watermelon Wednesday to demonstrate the power of an illegal firework that is slightly smaller than a quarter-stick of dynamite.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

DuPage County Sheriff's Deputy Andy Barnish demonstrates the maneuverability of the department's new bomb disposal robot it received with a $150,000 state grant.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/1/2009 11:55 AM | Updated: 7/1/2009 3:56 PM

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It can climb stairs. It can lift 60-pound packages. It can drag wounded people to safety. It has four cameras. And it can see in the dark.

But perhaps the most important feature of the new DuPage County Sheriff's Hazardous Device Unit bomb disposal robot is that its arm can be replaced if an explosion blows it off.

"This robot would have been deployed on 60 percent to 70 percent of the calls where we sent one of our guys last year," said Sgt. Jim Ruff, the unit's commander.

The new $150,000 robot was unveiled Wednesday at the sheriff's office in Wheaton. An Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System grant paid for the robot, Sheriff John Zaruba said.

The new robot replaces an older model that couldn't handle some types of terrain. That improvement translates to less initial human contact with suspicious packages, keeping sheriff's bomb technicians safer. Ruff's unit will keep the older version as a backup, he said.

"This robot will greatly minimize the contact our team members have with a suspected explosive device or suspicious package," Zaruba said. "It allows them to assess the device and to disarm the device and render it safe for disposal at a safe distance."

The robot will be used for other emergency calls as well, such as those dealing with barricaded suspects. The robot is outfitted with a communications system that allows deputies to talk to a suspect through the robot and they can also hear what someone says to it or near it.

Ruff said his unit receives about 170 calls a year, and about 50 or 60 of them deal with suspicious devices. He said two-thirds of the suspicious packages contain dangerous items.

Sometimes those items are illegal fireworks. In addition to the robot display Wednesday, Ruff's unit demonstrated the power of some illegal fireworks ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. Many fireworks that are legal in bordering states are illegal in Illinois, he said.

Using a flash-powder explosive device that's slightly smaller than a quarter-stick of dynamite, the unit exploded a watermelon. The detonation sent pieces of the fruit and rind 20 to 30 yards in every direction.

Ruff said the explosive device used to blow up the watermelon is now illegal in every state.

"The problem is that people make them on their own and there's no quality control," he said.