By Scott Reitz
In SWAT not everything goes as planned. “The best laid plans of mice and men” is more than an appropriate concept in this story. We had just started to use the Kerie cutting cable which consisted of a hollow flexible metal burning element (exothermic Clucas Thermic-Arc System if you want to get a tad fancy) through which pure oxygen was fed at high pressure. The user had to wear a compressed oxygen cylinder on his back which is not altogether a totally safe proposition if hot lead starts to fly about. This baby burned hot… and I mean hot. You could burn through just about any steel out there in a New York minute and at the same time cook up about six thousand hot dogs in ten seconds. It was really, really hot and really, really bright. All this heat and brightness meant that the operator had to wear a huge heavy welder’s helmet with face shield and large, heavy gloves so that the hands/fingers were not instantaneously burned off with one simple misstep. So that sets the scene so to speak.
Here’s a photo of just a small breach in the early 90s.
Bill Anderson, who was an F4 Phantom pilot in Vietnam and a rather big man at that, was chosen to give the burn cable its virginal run on a warrant service in Foothill Division. I was to guard him with the Benelli 12 gauge. Now when Bill got all suited up in his SWAT utilities, tactical vest with all the guns, magazines, ammo etc. and then donned this contraption along with all the protective gear, he looked just like a huge hulking well… picture something out of Star Wars… from the dark side.
So we hit the location at about 0300 hrs. on a very dark, starry and still Los Angeles night. The front door was comprised of heavy steel mesh and interlocking bars as Bill and I approach. I guarded from his right with the Benelli as he torched this beauty off. Some bad guys have good timing and some, well, they don’t. This guy didn’t. For some silly reason this guy, for whatever reason, decides to open the front door. He never knew we were there. The door opened just as the burn cable torched off. Now there are cases of the ‘big eyes’ and then there are the real stupendously funny cases of the ‘big eyes’. This most definitively fell into the latter category. A lesser bad guy would have gone into vapor lock and died right then and there. I don’t know what the this guy thought as he viewed Bill with all this gear on brightly illuminated behind the brightest white lighted 5000 degree fireball one could imagine. Bill simply said “Hi,” as he was the classical master of the understatement. This guy instantly disappeared inside and then we got him and surprise of surprises, he offered not a bit of resistance.
One had to be there to really appreciate the whole scene. This guy may have thought we were invaders from Mars on a sterilization mission against humanity. He kept looking at Bill not truly believing he was human.