The apprentices practiced their skills while retrofitting this armored vehicle for the Lake Station, Ind. fire department.

Iron Workers Apprentices Turn Brinks Trucks into SWAT Vehicles

The Iron Workers Local 395 Apprenticeship School in Lake Station, Ind., has produced three of the imposing trucks for local police departments for a fraction of what an armored vehicle usually costs.

The Iron Workers Local 395 Apprenticeship School in Lake Station, Ind., is giving students valuable experience while giving much-needed help to local police departments. The apprentices are retrofitting Brinks Security trucks into SWAT vehicles, and the armored vehicles cost the departments just a fraction of what they'd normally have to pay. Nick Dmitrovich, a writer for Building Indiana magazine, reported three police departments have worked with the school thus far: Lake Station, Munster, and Portage.

"Iron Workers 395 is always proud to do things that help our community. This project was a really interesting one that engaged our apprentices and got them excited, and we were happy to work on something that went to support our local law enforcement agencies," said Doug Strayer, business manager for Iron Workers 395.

"The nature of our business in iron working is safety. Safety is the number one priority that we're teaching our apprentices and, in a way, this whole project with these SWAT vehicles is about safety. We're working to ensure the safety of these officers, who in turn work to protect our entire community," said Master Iron Worker and 395 Instructor Richard Hertaus. "We want these officers, and our students, to have confidence when they go to do their jobs to be able to perform their jobs and return home. On this project, our students were practicing many of their usual skills -- cutting, welding, measuring, and things like that -- but this just happens to be placed in a different format. So, our students saw a lot of cool things that they never would have thought of and we showed them how to apply these techniques. There was a lot of reinforcement to their skills that they got to apply with this project. It was something very unique that we were able to accomplish."

Troy Williams, chief of the Portage Police Department, told Dmitrovich that he noticed the Lake Station Department's vehicle while personnel from the two departments were working together to serve a warrant. "I asked them, 'Where'd you guys get that?'" Williams said. "Brinks has a program in which you can get an out-of-service truck that they will lease/sell to a department for $10, and the only caveat to that is whenever you're done with it, you have to give it back to Brinks. So if we have it for 20 years, that's great, and we'll return it to them when we no longer need it."

"The iron workers did all the work and we just had to fund the materials, so that was awesome," Williams said. "If you were to go out and buy a vehicle like this on the market, it's probably going to cost about $300,000, give or take. We put about $2,500 in materials, the $10 to lease it from Brinks, and then we have an individual who's donating the paint for it, so for under $3,000 we basically have a tank. Given today's world -- you see all the active shooter situations -- all departments need equipment to get close to an active shooter, and this gives us another tool to do our job."

Detective Mike Smith, Lake Station's SWAT Team leader, described their vehicle's features: "The vehicle is fully armored, and the glass is bulletproof. It also has a bulletproof opening on top where we could put a sniper up there where he'd have some cover behind bulletproof glass. The front passenger seat has been reversed, facing the rear of the vehicle, so that passenger can get out of the back of the vehicle easier in full SWAT gear. The platforms on the sides and the back have been expanded and the wheels have been covered to protect the officers riding on the sides. Additionally, the front bumper has a battering ram that slides out of the side in case we need to take a fence down or something like that."

"The vehicle is very intimidating. The iron workers thought of everything. For what we needed, and what we wanted, they really hit it out of the park,” Smith said. "The Painters Union in Merrillville donated their labor to paint the vehicle; we just had to pay for the paint. To have a fully armored vehicle for a fraction of the cost – other departments should really be taking a look at this."

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