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Local training brings together bomb-sniffing dogs from around country

For one week every year at Prairie Material in Manteno, dogs from around the country explore the quarry as robots and drones circle around them.

This isn’t the beginning of a Ray Bradbury novel; rather, it’s an annual training for bomb-sniffing dogs and their owners to get them versed in different high-pressure scenarios.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Mines and Minerals, and Explosives and Aggregate Division [department] put together the 4th Annual Northern Illinois Bomb Dog Training around the grounds of the quarry. Up to 25 different dog/owner teams participate each day.

This year was the biggest event to date.

Teams from Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey and more — along with teams from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration staff from O’Hare and Midway airports — reenacted various scenarios in the attempt to prepare themselves for anything.

Prairie’s sales manager Lori Bartels explained that the quarry receives vehicles from an auto body shop and explosives are often placed in the tires for dogs to sniff out.

“They get so excited,” she said of dogs who find the explosives.

Nilden Adiloff, Prairie’s environment and lands manager, said that even though the dogs might look friendly, it’s best not to approach.

“They’re trained to attack,” said Adiloff.

DRAWING FROM HISTORY

A specialist from Prairie said that the scenarios “reference things that have happened throughout the years in history.”

They explained that teams don’t typically get the opportunity to train to this scale, and over 1,000 pounds of explosives are used.

“There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Like the dogs, the officers aren’t aware of where the explosives are located. When a dog sniffs out an explosive, they tend to sit, then get excited and finally get their toy ball as a reward. Each officer that participates receives a $20 gift card to Pet Smart.

“While [teams] know the layout, they have no idea of the scenarios and it’s about tricking the dog and the handler,” the specialist said.

“It’s a huge playground for them to train on.”

One of the scenarios was a reenactment of traffic stops, similar to what happens at U.S. borders. Another presented luggage laid out for dogs to sniff as if in an airport setting.

ROBOTS IN TRAINING

Happening simultaneously in the training is the use of robots. Kane County participants brought several robots, one of which could be seen working alongside vehicles as the first line of defense against explosives. The robot checks the vehicle and, once it is deemed safe, an officer is able to take over.

The breeds mainly include German shepherds, Labradors and bloodhounds. Johanna Rivera, Illinois State Police Trooper, who has participated each year since the training began in 2018, is experienced in K-9 handling and has her own trained dog, a black Lab named Rose.

“If you use only your [department’s] explosives, your dog is trained to your explosives, not to explosives,” said Rivera. “We like to expose them other explosives.”

She said she often provides comments and critiques to teams to help assist them in their training.

“We’re here to learn, this is where I’ve learned the best K-9 training in my life.”


Local
Board appoints new trustee to fire protection district

KANKAKEE — It’s not very often an appointment as a trustee to a county fire protection district comes under question. But that was the case on Tuesday at the Kankakee County Board meeting.

The appointment of Patrick Pahl for a three-year term as a trustee to the Grant Park Fire Protection District was questioned. Pahl was replacing Tony Brunello, who was first appointed as a trustee in May 2015. The board ultimately approved the change.

Two people spoke in the public comment portion of the meeting, including Gene Rademacher, supporting Brunello. Rademacher, who is the fire protection district’s board president, said he was speaking on behalf of fellow board member Char Sims and himself. They were concerned about the change.

“We work well together as a team,” Rademacher said. “[Brunello] has been a fire trustee for many years. Tony brings a vast knowledge of the medical paramedic ambulance portion of our district along with his experience with the fire protection.

“... Tony is an important asset to our board in the fire protection district. We feel it’s important that Tony be reappointed as a trustee, and we’d like to appreciate your consideration at this time.”

Board members Robert Ellington-Snipes and Janis Peters also spoke in support of Brunello to retain his seat.

“I’m going to support Gene Rademacher,” Peters said. “He’s a trustee on the board, he’s worked with Tony Brunello, and I just trust his opinion.”

Board member Colton Ekhoff, whose District 2 covers Grant Park, said it was time to make a change.

“Grant Park Fire has seen better days, and, like every organization, there’s been ups and downs,” he said. “Today, I’m asking you to help right the ship and help turn around Grant Park Fire. The district has gone through five fire chiefs over the last year and has had staffing issues and accountability, transparency and public trust issues as well.

“I have much respect for Grant Park Fire and all the first responders and those that serve on the Board of Trustees out there, but it’s time to have someone new on this board and give a new set of eyes to help turn around this fire district.”

Pahl’s appointment was also unanimously recommended by the County Board’s Executive Committee.

“Mr. Pahl has the experience, governmental knowledge and, most importantly, Mr. Pahl cares about his community and wants to be a part of the positive change in that district,” Ekhoff said.

The Board voted 20-4 in favor of Pahl’s appointment as the trustee.

TURNOVER AT GRANT PARK FIRE

In July of 2021, Matt Shronts, who was named fire chief in 2020 after 19 years with the Grant Park Fire Protection District, resigned. The district declined to give a reason for the resignation, deferring to the inability to discuss personnel matters per the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Later, a former paramedic-EMT for the Grant Park district contacted the Daily Journal following published reports of Shronts’ resignation. As a possible victim, she wasn’t identified. The Journal, however, verified who she was and the actions she says she had taken.

Those actions include addressing the district trustees at their April 21, 2021 meeting and filing a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The woman said she told the trustees during an executive session she had been sexually harassed by Shronts from September 2019 until she left the department in December 2020. She had worked for the department since January 2019.

After an independent investigation by the law firm Ottosen, DiNolfo, Hasenbaig and Castaldo, Shronts was given the opportunity to resign or be terminated as chief, according to documentation the woman provided that was given to her from the law firm.


Local
Small businesses receive nearly $4 million in direct assistance

State Sen. Patrick Joyce

More than 125 businesses in Kankakee, Will and southern Cook counties were awarded nearly $4 million in funding from the “Back to Business” program, which received advocacy and support from State Sen. Patrick Joyce [D-Essex].

“This is good for our small business community and will help boost our local economy,” Joyce said. “I will continue to advocate for investment in our area.”

A total of $3,925,000 was awarded to 128 businesses in the 40th Senate District. The Back to Business [B2B] grants are awarded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, using funds allocated to them by the American Rescue Plan through last year’s state budget.

DCEO has provided $250 million in B2B grants to small businesses throughout the state, with an emphasis on hard hit sectors — such as hotels, restaurants, bars, barbershops and salons — and disproportionately impacted areas.

Illinois earned two-notch bond upgrades from two major credit rating agencies this month — and received the upgrade by all three major credit rating agencies in less than a year.

This marks the sixth credit upgrade the state has received in the last year, as a result of the state paying down its bill backlog from over $16 billion to less than $3 billion in a course of a few years.

Because of this, the state saw an increase in funds available to assist small businesses.

Small businesses can visit the DCEO website for additional resources or contact DCEO’s First Stop Business Information Center Services at 800-252-2923 or email ceo.firststop@illinois.gov.


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