When authorities began their sweep of Cullman Regional Medical Center following a bomb threat, a quiet expert led the way.
Relying on a specially trained nose and the patience of his handler, Hammer — Cullman Police Department’s nearly 6-year-old German Shepherd — put his skill to use in checking the hospital from room-to-room for potential explosives.
Thanks to Hammer, law enforcement and hospital officials were able to complete the sweep much quicker and return patients to their rooms.
“Hammer is trained for explosives. In fact, he’s trained to recognize 30 different ones, which is a lot. Drug dogs are trained for four, so this is an extensive training,” said Scott Sanford, the Cullman Police Department K-9 officer who works with Hammer.
The police department acquired Hammer two years ago this May. He was specially trained for bomb work in Illinois and then received additional training in Huntsville.
“There are commands you give to him for searching a vehicle or buildings. He’s real independent in his searches, so I keep him within a certain distance and watch for his signals,” Sanford said.
While Cullman is not the frequent setting for bomb scares, Hammer has been called on four times to search areas following threats. But he has much more to do than look for bombs.
“We also use him for patrols and searches involving fugitives. When the burglars were chased after the Dodge City drug store incident a few weeks ago, we brought Hammer out to help with the search for the suspects,” Sanford said.
Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said Hammer is a tremendous asset for the department because of his unique abilities.
“It’s really a blessing to have a dog trained for this. In a situation like we had (Sunday night), the dog makes your search more thorough,” Culpepper said.
Without Hammer’s training, local authorities would have to request a bomb detection dog from Huntsville or Birmingham. The demand for searching out bombs may not be frequent, but waiting for help from neighboring communities could take hours.
“He’s really valuable for the department when we track or serve warrants in dangerous situations. He’s good to have with you for many reasons,” Sanford said. “The chief thought it would be an asset for the department and the community to have a dog trained like this, and it’s certainly worth it. I hope we never have to find a real bomb, that would be awful. But with Hammer we are prepared.”
* David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.