Anyone near the east end of the Eagle County Regional Airport last week might have seen a bunch of police cars and heard squeals of burning rubber.
Those were Eagle County Sheriff Deputies and other personnel practicing their driving skills.
“We try to do it every year but this is the first training in two years because we’ve been short-staffed,” said one of the driving instructors, Deputy Heath Mosness.
Officers doing the training have to do it on their days off work. Sheriff Joe Hoy said sometimes the training can’t be done because it would mean taking deputies off patrol.
“It’s hard to do some of the training we would like to do more often,” he said.
Mosness helped train approximately 75 people in four-hour blocks twice a day, Tuesday through Friday last week. There were six maneuvers that were practiced, ranging from the dreaded parallel park to evasive driving.
“We don’t have much parallel parking here,” Mosness said. “I think a lot of people here are afraid of the parallel park because it’s something we don’t encounter that often. I gave some people 45 minutes at the training, though, and showed them the secret. Then they all did fine.”
Mosness said he could barely remember the last time he had to parallel park, and then remembered an occasion three months ago.
The most exciting maneuver exhibited at the training was a “don’t try this at home” type of thing – the J-turn.
“A J-turn can be useful if you’re backing up and someone is shooting at your windshield,” Mosness said. “I didn’t teach it at the training. I just demonstrated it. It’s really dangerous and some kids were recently killed in Greeley trying to do it.”
A J-turn is when a car is in reverse and slides around 180 degrees so that it is driving forward.
“An SUV won’t work at all – it will roll,” Mosness said. “Most of our deputies drive SUVs.”
Mosness’ co-instructor, Deputy Lisa Vasquez, said the maneuver is only shown to the trainees so that they know what a car may be cable of doing.
“We practiced it in our instructor course but we were never given the blessing to teach it,” Vasquez said. “It was only shown as an option to them in case they were in a situation where they needed it.”
Vasquez said they are more limited with space for training, so they can’t do maneuvers or speeds like they used to.
Vasquez has been an instructor since 2005 and Mosness since about 2008.
“I originally went to school for two years to be a mechanic,” he said. “I kind of always had a car thing. It’s definitely scary to learn what a car’s limitations are and what your limitations are, but those are important to know.”
Both Vasquez and Mosness stressed the importance of constant awareness.
“Every day, we’re operating in emergencies and multi-tasking,” Mosness said. “Once I was riding hot, with my lights and sirens going, in the left lane of Interstate 70, and I had to swerve to the right to avoid a car that pulled in front of me from the right lane.”
The training also helps lower the insurance premiums on the government vehicles.
“For those of us driving town vehicles, it’s good not to be the cause of accidents,” joked Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll.
For law enforcement officers, driving is simply a big part of what they do.
“There are three things in the academy you can’t fail no matter how well you do in everything else – shooting, arrest control and driving,” Mosness said.
“To answer a call, we first have to get there in any kind of circumstances,” Hoy said.