The crowd of students gathered in front of Endeavor Academy on April 13 couldn't seem to take their eyes off the three robots standing idle in the parking lot.
Their fascination was really no wonder, considering the size and expense of the machinery on display. The largest of the trio of robots – an 800-pound machine worth $225,000 with rubber treads and a massive steel arm is the biggest of its kind in the state of Colorado; it's capable of dragging 300 to 400 pounds and lifting 65 to 70 pounds. The two smaller robots were no less impressive – designed to function in more confined environments like buses, trains and planes, they still managed to capture the imagination of the crowd of teenagers.
That had a lot to do with the function of the machines. They're among the high-tech tools used by members of the Arapahoe County Bomb Squad, a group of law enforcement officials charged with diffusing some of the most dangerous situations imaginable.
"It's fascinating work. People seem to be mystified by what we do," said Brad Zborowski, a sergeant with the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office and Bomb Squad Commander. "There's very little cutting of the red wire or the green wire. We try to do everything remotely – thus the robots."
Zborowski spoke specifically of the 800-pounder, referring to the massive robot as "our workhorse."
Zborowski joined several fellow Bomb Squad members for a special presentation to Endeavor students enrolled in criminology classes. Zborowski and his colleagues showed off expensive robots, high-tech bomb suits and heavy-duty vehicles; they spoke about the unique demands of a job that fuses emergency response, advanced scientific theory and mental and physical toughness.
"There's an emphasis on science in this job. You have to be pretty good at electronics, you have to know the physics of blast-wave pressure and chemistry is obviously a big part of this," Zborowski said. "Biology was my focus in high school and college. I was pre-med in school … but I chose this line of work."
Showing off the different elements of the job was at the heart of the squad's visit to Endeavor. Mike Jadd, who's been teaching at the school for nearly two decades, makes a focused effort to bring in guest speakers from across the spectrum of law enforcement throughout the year. Input from professionals helps paint a fuller portrait for students; they show that the field of criminal justice incorporates a wide range of skills and specialties.
"My speakers include the bomb squad, the SWAT team, the canine unit. I've had DUI officers and judges from municipal courts," Jadd said. "It adds that extra dimension to the class … Anything that these speakers can bring other than standing around and speaking adds to the level of engagement."
For the bomb squad presentation, that included outfitting one of the students in a specialized protective suit that weighs about 80 pounds and carries a price tag of about $80,000. The teenager moved laboriously and worked hard to get up from the ground; he strained his way through jumping jacks as his peers watched on and laughed.
That kind of immediate, hands-on interaction helped illustrate the demands and the perils of the job for the group of dozens of students from two different classes. In addition to input from squad members about responding to real-life tragedies like Columbine and the Aurora theater shooting, the hands-on learning helped convey the seriousness of the work.
"They bring the truck, the trailer, the robots, all of their gear," Jadd said. "It gets the kids really engaged."
The effect is mutual. For members of bomb squad, whose everyday work is often tied to tragedy and stress, the visit to Endeavor Academy offered its own kind of boon.
"For us, we get to interact with the community," Zborowski said. "On most of our calls, we're isolated. This is a nice change of pace for us."