The masonry program at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center got an interesting request last week — build a wall just to have it knocked down.
They got the request at 1:15 on Tuesday, Jan. 15, said teacher Mike Campanile, and in about 20 minutes, they had built a small wall.
The next day, it was constructed, made of cinder blocks and reinforced with metal scrap, set up just inside the wide garage-style door of the masonry shop.
But its opponent was stronger. As students watched, cheering and taking video, a battering ram welded to the front of a Sheriff’s Office vehicle struck the wall, knocking it over and causing it to crack at the seams.
The finished product was the result of a partnership formed after the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office approached the welding program at the Career and Technology Center.
Sgt. Phillip Lawrence said after making the request, the groups have communicated about the capabilities and limitations on the project.
“It’s been a long collaborative process,” he said.
Two seniors in the welding program, John Leister of Winters Mill High School and Joseph Petrowicz of Westminster High School took the lead on finishing the project that had been started by an earlier class.
This past summer, they began troubleshooting a pulley wheel mechanism that can hoist the ram to different heights. At the start, it was pulling to one side, and they re-engineered the design to fix the problem.
How did it feel to see their project in use knocking down a wall?
Tech Center students in the video production program documented the project so it can be entered into the SkillsUSA Championships. In 2018, Tech Center students brought home 37 medals at the SkillsUSA Maryland State Leadership and Skills Championships.
Petrowicz said working on a project like this was “totally different” from just practicing welds. Leister used several different types of welding that he’d learned in the shop on the project. They worked under supervision of their teacher Mike Schweinsberg.
“I’m getting my arm workout for the day,” Petrowicz told Schweinsberg as he lifted the heavy metal head of the battering ram onto the arm while other students placed the pins that keep the whole thing together while allowing it to be disassembled and rearranged easily.
The head of the battering ram can be placed on different lengths of metal arm, making it even more versatile. The sections of the arm have attachments welded to them that allow them to be stored on the side of the vehicle.
It belongs to the Carroll County Crisis Response Team, a unit that can handle high-risk warrants, and is trained in hostage negotiations and Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT.
Sheriff Jim DeWees said the battering ram could come into use in a situation like the Jan. 24 shooting in a Sebring, Florida, bank where several were killed and a SWAT team forced entry into the building to reach the suspect.
“As the sheriff, if I think there is a tool out there that will keep my deputies safe and can save the lives of the people we are sworn to protect, then I’ll acquire it one way or another,” he said.
Students were not allowed to drive the vehicle after installing the battering ram, though they probably would have if given the chance. That was left to a member of the Crisis Response Team.
But they got the chance to check out the inside of the vehicle while it was at the Tech Center.
According to Petrowicz, finishing the mechanisms for the battering ram took a lot of problem solving. The students used tools they never had before like an oxyacetylene torch, which was required to drill through the bumper of the specially reinforced vehicle.
Both students feel like their welding skills will be useful to them after they graduate high school. Leister hopes to find an internship in the welding field and Petrowicz is looking for a future as a career firefighter.
Working on the battering ram project was “a lot of fun,” they both agreed.
The partnership between the Tech Center and the Sheriff’s Office came together when Kenneth Mercer, a participant in the Citizen’s Police Academy, heard about the law enforcement agency’s desire for the piece of equipment.