By Dave Rogers
---- — SALISBURY — With still-fresh memories of the challenges of last winter — including the need to evacuate North End Boulevard residents after coastal flooding threatened their homes, — the Salisbury Police Department has a new vehicle that it will make a significant impact should beach residents need to be rescued again.
The vehicle, an Army surplus Humvee has been part of the department’s fleet of vehicles since Memorial Day, but according to police, the main idea behind picking it up was to have it on hand for winter. Last year, coastal flooding forced the town to evacuate dozens of residents, some of them who hitched a ride on a Department of Public Works backhoe.
“Places were so flooded out we couldn’t reach them,” Salisbury police Officer James Leavitt said.
Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler said the Humvee was U.S Army surplus, given to the town free of charge. Local and area businesses, Coastal Connections and Sal’s Garage of Elm Street, and Adamson Industries of Haverhill, performed necessary modifications and give the vehicle a new paint job, offering their services free of charge or at a discount.
Spearheading the charge for a new Humvee were officers Michael Tullercash and Leavitt, who both served in the military and were very aware of what a Humvee could mean for the coastal community. Tullercash, according to Leavitt, identified an available Humvee and began inquiring about how to bring it to Salisbury.
Leavitt, who served in the Air Force, said he spent time behind the wheel of a Humvee while conducting training exercises at Fort Devens. There, he drove through the messiest swamps and found that his Humvee wouldn’t get bogged down in the muck.
“I drove right through it like it was nothing,” Leavitt said.
Since the department acquired the Humvee over the summer, it has been put to good use. The Humvee was rolled out in time for Memorial Day and featured at the Sand and Sea Festival in July. Around the same time, the Humvee was used to patrol the beach as police looked to curtail bonfires which are illegal.
“It’s already been a huge asset for us,” Leavitt said.
With its automatic transmission, driving the diesel-powered Humvee is relatively straightforward. Still, Leavitt and Tullercash conducted a training session for other officers.
“It’s not that difficult, it’s very rudimentary,” Fowler said.
Recognizing the versatility of having an all-wheel drive vehicle, the department has been on a campaign to add more SUVs to its fleet. According to Fowler, he has asked taxpayers to approve the purchase of two SUV patrol vehicles to replace aging cruisers. The department’s shift commander and Fowler use recently purchased SUVs.
“Being a beach community with a lot of flooding a four-wheel drive was essential,” Fowler said.