Calaveras to replace fried sheriff's gear

SAN ANDREAS -- The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Thursday allocated $75,000 for new equipment for the Sheriff's Department to replace machines fried last week in a power surge, officials said.

The budget won't be approved officially until later this month, said Undersheriff Michael Walker.

Computers, the jail intercom, a fire alarm system, key access pads to doors, radio equipment and a fingerprint scanning machine were damaged. The wiring has not been inspected; that will happen Saturday, Walker said, and could boost repair costs.

Investigators don't know what caused the power surge at 891 Mountain Ranch Road on Aug. 30. Two of the city's transformers blew, causing a small power surge. The next day, a third transformer blew, damaging a back-up generator. Power surged through the Sheriff's Department, forcing dispatchers to move about 400 yards to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection office.

Emergency calls to 911 were transferred to lines in the Cal Fire building for about two hours while Sheriff's Department equipment was offline.

'The lights kind of flickered'

Rex Barnes has been a sheriff's dispatcher for 10 years. He was working Aug. 31 during the surge.

"The lights kind of flickered the first time and went out," he said. "They came back on with a surge, so a lot of our lights went super nova, super bright, then burned out. Then all the equipment went down and was totally gone."

Windows high on the dispatch walls kept the room from plunging into darkness. Barnes said the 911 line was down for five to eight minutes while dispatchers grabbed call cards to fill out for law enforcement calls and hand-held charts that walk dispatchers through the questions for different types of medical calls.

When Barnes started with the department, there was one computer in the office to keep track of calls; now all their work relies on computers. Barnes said the power failure was an important reminder of how dependent his work has become on technology.

Walker said the county had the money available for repairs, so the accident won't impinge on other budgeted expenses. Had the budget been set before the power surge, it likely would have taken more time to get approval for equipment, he said.

Barnes said he hopes the new equipment arrives quickly. Though most of the office's main machines are running, dispatchers are feeling burned by the surge.

"We've jury-rigged and pasted and glued things back together to where we can operate," he said. "But when you paper clip (the system) together, it takes a little longer to get the answers out of it."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.