It is fondly referred to by members of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office as "the beast."
Officially, the B.E.A.S.T. is the new Barton County Emergency Assistance Sheriff Truck, a multi-purpose vehicle now in use by the department filling a wide variety of crime-fighting roles. A recently retired ambulance from Addison, Ill., it serves as a mobile command center and crime scene investigation unit that can also transport the Crisis Response Team and be used to clean up methamphetamine labs.
"It is an extremely big asset for a very reasonable investment," said Sheriff Greg Armstrong. "It takes the place of what would require three separate vehicles."
Officers brought the Beast back from Illinois last October. But, "we just got it put together," said BCSO Detective Rick Popp. "It’s sort of a work in progress. It’s operational, but not 100 percent yet."
In fact, it was used at an arson scene when it still had the former fire department decals. It now has BCSO markings.
The ambulance is a 1995 International 4700 with 96,000 miles. It cost the BCSO $8,900, and with the improvements made, the office has about $15,000 tied up in the truck.
But, "no taxpayer money was used," Armstrong said. Part of the cost was covered by proceeds from the sale of the old, 1985 military ambulance used as a CRT vehicle (used by the office for 17 years) and the rest came from funds seized in drug raids.
"It is completely self sufficient," Popp said. It has built-in power generators, three radio systems, a global positioning system and has on-board wireless Internet capabilities.
From the field, officers can access criminal records, type and submit search warrants and process evidence. These are all functions that would have required trips back into the office and/or multiple phone calls.
"It’s a big time saver," Popp said. "We can process scenes more efficiently."
Where as the six-member entry team (CRT) had its old vehicle, "we haven’t had a mobile command center," Popp said. In the past, they’ve used tents and patrol cars. "It will be nice to be able to work out of the elements" in the climate-controlled beast.
It can also be used to assist other agencies.
In addition, the unit can flood a scene with light, allowing officers to remain at a scene and work through the night.
Armstrong said they looked all over the country to find what they were looking for. Most of what they found were out of their budget range or in severe disrepair. This ambulance was still in use and had all of the emergency lighting in place, requiring very little work.
The nickname comes from the former ambulance’s large size. "It’s a monster," Popp said.
The department hopes to get at least 15 years of service out of the vehicle.