Willoughby students transform old ambulance into functioning SWAT vehicle

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 02, 2017

You've heard of "flipping houses" but what about "flipping cars"? Some local high school students are rolling up their sleeves, getting their hands dirty, and doing exactly that.

Every day for the past three months, Rachel Tindel, senior at the Northern Career Institute in Willoughby, and her classmates have been putting their hands to good use.

"I never thought I'd be doing something like this," she said.  

They’re transforming an old ambulance into a functioning SWAT vehicle.

“Oh this is going to be a massive help, yeah…we'll have this vehicle outfitted with everything that we need in a major crisis," said Joe Di Lillo, a South Euclid police officer and EDGE hostage negotiator.

It's a project coordinated by the Willoughby-Eastlake schools and the regional SWAT team EDGE, or The Eastside Department Group Enforcement.

“South Euclid, the city of South Euclid fire department was getting rid of an ambulance or replacing one. The only thing we covered was the materials, all the labor was done for free, which saves the city thousands,” explained Officer Ben Feltoon with the University Heights Police Department. He's also an EDGE Hostage negotiator.

It may look like a basic black truck on the outside, but it will serve a very important role as a hostage negotiation command center.

“We did not have a vehicle like this before," said Officer Di Lillo.

Changing the lights and repainting the surface, Tindel said working with her hands and giving back is why she became interested in the transformation.

“This is something I wanted to know how to do and not much girls wanted to know how to do it."

But the project is bigger than just a new pair of wheels. Superintendent of the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools Stephen Thompson explained it's really all about building better connections between the kids and the police.

“Certainly the underlying goal was to help foster better relationships between young people and our local police departments.”

An experience the students said has been eye opening.

“It was cool, I got to know them as people instead of police officers," said Dan Cain, a senior at the Northern Career Institute.

Officers said one of the last things that will go on the truck is its label, which will make it an official SWAT car, ready for action sometime this May.