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By Jordan W. Charness

What vehicle comes with the following standard equipment? Six machine guns, 18 handguns, a few 80-pound bulletproof shields, an assortment of battering rams, stun guns, flash bangs and gas grenades? It also comes with one of the most sophisticated radios you can find. It’s air-conditioned and has a fair bit of leg room, easily enough to accommodate some really large well-built guys.

This type of vehicle does indeed travel the streets of Montreal but you would never know it was there. That’s the whole point. You’re not supposed to know what it is when you see it. It looks just like any other similar vehicle. The only difference is that this one is filled with highly trained members of the Montreal SWAT team. This is one of the unmarked vehicles that transports the most elite members of Montreal’s police force.

I had the rare privilege of spending a good part of the day at the headquarters of Montreal’s own Special Weapons And Tactical team. These highly trained specialists are experts in all those things that we see Stallone and Schwarzenegger do in the movies. The 27-member team ably led by Commander Jean Sergerie are those who are called upon whenever there is a situation with a high level of danger.

The SWAT team is trained, trained, and trained again. They have to be to do what they do. They have earned a reputation as being one of the top SWAT departments in North America. Although not the largest they are one of the most successful. The fact that we rarely hear about them in the media means only that they are doing their job properly. Their job is to diffuse dangerous situations before they blow up…sometimes literally.

Getting to a dangerous situation as quickly as possible comes with its own set of problems. Any vehicle that travels at a high rate of speed is one that could itself be a danger on the roads. This includes police and emergency vehicles.

According to law, all drivers must slow down or stop and pull out of the way of an emergency vehicle that comes by with flashing lights and blaring sirens. Even so, there have been several accidents that have been caused by emergency vehicles responding to dangerous situations. In those cases there is no automatic rule that makes the emergency vehicle at fault for these accidents – on the other hand the emergency vehicles do not have carte blanche to ignore the rules and cause accidents.

Recently, there has been some debate as to whether or not police and other emergency vehicles should have a right to go through red lights and exceed the posted speed limits to respond to an emergency. Although there are directives instructing drivers of emergency vehicles to be careful not to cause a hazard to others, I am not aware of any jurisdiction that has completely prohibited an emergency vehicle’s right-of-way as long as they are very careful when going through red lights or stop signs or ignoring other rules of the road.

Here’s a look at one situation where we can all agree that we would certainly want the emergency responder to arrive on scene as quickly as possible.

One of the jobs that falls to the SWAT team is that of bomb disposal. There are about 150 bomb calls that come in every year. Many of the bomb threats are fake but more than enough of them are real.

In order to deal with bombs, SWAT counts on about 10 experts within their team to deal with the bombs. This is one seriously stressful job. I was informed that the best way to deal with a bomb is to explode it in place where possible. Obviously a bomb capable of bringing down to building is not one that will be exploded in place. A letter or briefcase bomb however may be moved to a safe location as close to the original site as possible. Once all the civilians have been evacuated and the bomb has been thoroughly checked out by the experts they create a contained blast destroying the bomb without detonating it. This is faster and safer than attempting to disarm it. Although this sounds good in theory it is certainly difficult to pull off in real-life. That’s where the training and specialized equipment comes in.

Next week we will look at some of the cool vehicles that the SWAT team uses and learn some things that you probably did not know about how emergencies are dealt with in the big city.

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