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Emergency Agencies Pack Safety Fair
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Riverbank's Health & Safety Fair attracted all types.

Accompanied by four little girls, Henry Colombo of Oakdale said they'd just finished swimming classes at the adjacent pool Wednesday and swung through the park to see what the commotion was about.

"I'm a farmer," he said, " but I have some good friends who are all in law enforcement so I take an interest if only to keep up with their conversation."

Colombo was standing in front of a huge, black armored car that the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department bought about a year ago to carry its Special Weapons and Tactics team into action.

"I've just learned it weighs 28,000 pounds. That's 14 tons," he commented.

"It's pretty cool," was young Kasiah Picchi's comment although she and the other girls didn't seem interested in boarding the metal mammoth sitting on the Community Center Park lawn.

Five-year-old Kyle Bays, on the other hand, was clambering all over the inside of the vehicle, especially around the gun turret and the driver's seat. It turned out Deputy Ross Bays who was demonstrating the vehicle and SWAT weapons to visitors, was his father.

"He's seen a lot of his father's gear before," commented his mother. "But not this. He mainly seems interested in the seatbelt."

The visit convinced 12-year-old Nicholas Eggleston he wanted to join the SWAT team. Bays pointed out he first has to become a sheriff's deputy and then can volunteer to become a SWAT team member.

Across the lawn at the Bomb Squad's van, Deputy Ed Ridenour was explaining a heavily padded suit that gives protection against blasts and a mobile robot equipped with a camera and claws that can be sent in first to help officers avoid the danger of approaching something that may explode.

Ridenour also had a tripod-mounted gun that can fire all types of projectiles from bullets to beanbags to set off an explosive device. Next to it lay something reminiscent of a fisherman's case, full of wires and hooks and rods. It contained everything useful for hooking and dragging a suspicious device from a distance, he noted.

"We were called over here about two weeks ago for a pipe bomb," said Ridenour. "A rancher found it in his orchard and brought it to the fire department who called us. We destroyed it. It had some gunpowder in it."

Another special team of the Sheriff's Department, the Dive Squad was also on scene with their rubber suits hanging in their van on racks like a large clothes closest and air bottles piled at the entrance.

Dive squad member Steve Macedo talked about the recent incident in the Delta Mendota Canal near the I-5 freeway in which seven people in two vehicles drowned when they collided and went into the water.

"That was one of the most technically difficult and dangerous jobs we've had in a long time," said Macedo. "The current was running at 3,800 cubic feet per second and the maximum we're allowed to dive in is 4,000. And the visibility underwater was so poor you couldn't see six inches in front of your face."

He didn't dive himself that day but his companion, Deputy Larry Kjellberg was among the divers who went down.

Also at the fair was the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District with a fire truck, Riverbank Police Services with both patrol and motorcycle units and Oak Valley Hospital District with an ambulance. Events included a child seat checkpoint operated by Riverbank Police Services and a K-9 demonstration of police dogs. There were also informational desks staffed by the Red Cross and Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors.

Children were encouraged to check out all the exhibits by being issued "a passport" which they had to get signed by the exhibit's operator.

A drawing from among the passports toward the fair's end produced winners of two bicycles donated by Virginia Madueno, who is a bicycle rider and environmentalist herself besides a city council member.