For the first time since Washoe County’s acquisition of helicopters 12 years ago, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office SWAT team trained with the flying machines.
The SWAT team practiced moving between a hovering helicopter and the ground both on a level area and on the side of Prison Hill; members also loaded from a landed position Wednesday.
“It’s the first time I’ve gotten to do it,” Detective Dan Gomes said. The 14 team members were working on the two types of entry and exit — when the helicopter has landed and when the helicopter is about a foot off the ground — so they can rely on muscle memory when emergencies arise.
“We can be in the mountains in minutes” of boarding, Gomes said.
Gomes said he had never been in a Huey, which can load up to four SWAT members to deploy them in the hills around Carson City.
Sgt. Mike Cullen, the team commander who leads monthly practice sessions, joked that it was the best practice the SWAT team has had in a month.
“This is the next level of law enforcement in Carson City,” he said.
Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Larry Lodge said he has been with that office for 29 years and has been in the aerial program for six — half of its life. Lodge is an observer, the second person in the helicopter. He said he also can work the smaller helicopter’s “flashlight in the sky,” a laser used for marking suspects that is invisible to the naked eye, as well as real-time video monitoring.
Team members learned how to properly shift weight when exiting the hovering helicopter. Two of the most heights-averse members found dealing with the helicopter wasn’t a problem.
“It’s not like being on top of a building,” Cullen said.
Getting off the helicopter isn’t as simple as just jumping off. With the added weight of weapons and armor, team members have to avoid sudden movements, which force the pilot to perform corrective maneuvers.
“The hardest thing was the dirt and debris” being blown by the helicopter’s blades, Cullen said. Considering that that was the hardest part, the team was in good shape.
All of the SWAT team members are doing double or triple duty, he said.