News Local

Taking flight 0

Heather Kendall

In his lifetime, Killaloe/Whitney OPP Const. Hans Schirmer has enjoyed two very different, but equally satisfying careers: one as a pilot and one as a police officer. He is about to merge those passions; on June 2 he will join the OPP Provincial Highway Traffic Safety Program out of the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport and will pilot a Cessna 206 aircraft.

The plane was officially unveiled by the OPP on May 5. Last August the Ontario government announced a $2 million investment in an additional OPP aircraft, surveillance equipment and staff to support the program. The aim of the program is to crack down on street racing and dangerous driving and will initially focus on the 400 series of highways.

Using a fixed wing plane for detection of speeding and reckless drivers is not new - planes were used before radar became popular. The pendulum has now swung back to air coverage.

"There is no way a driver can detect being monitored by an aircraft unless he or she looks up in the sky," says Const. Schirmer.

The air unit will work in conjunction with officers on the ground. When an offender is spotted from the air, the pilot radios a cruiser and gives a description of the vehicle and its location. The plane is equipped with digital still and video cameras to document the scene.

Const. Schirmer is eagerly anticipating getting back in the air on a regular basis. As a child in Oshawa, he dreamed of becoming a pilot. After high school, though, he studied engineering and science at University of Western Ontario for two years before switching to Seneca College. He graduated from the Aviation and Flight Technology program in 1989 and was hired by Skycraft Air Transport in Oshawa. He worked as a flight instructor for two years and was promoted to first officer, and later captain, on the twin-engine turbo prop, a plane used for charters, scheduled flights and medical evacuation. He was also trained to fly an executive jet; in 1991 he got his airline transport pilot licence.

The company went under in 1994.

Schirmer was already a member of the Auxiliary OPP in Whitby and he had an uncle in Germany who was a police chief. During his years of flying, he'd met two police officers who, along with his uncle, inspired him to seek a career in law enforcement. He applied to the OPP and joined the force in January of 1996.

Const. Schirmer's first posting was to Whitney; he started on May 17, 1996. In the 12 years with the detachment, he has done general patrol, was coordinator for ViClas (a database of certain types of offenders), served as Community Services Officer, was the domestic violence coordinator, assistant court officer, DNA sampler, scenes of the crime officer and background investigator, doing background checks on applicants for the OPP. One of the most rewarding positions, however, was coach officer. This is where a seasoned officer is paired for several months with a rookie.

"There is a great deal of satisfaction watching new officers develop," he says. He has coached seven recruits and five of them are still with the Killaloe detachment. One is Const. Lori Lobinowich.

"Hans is a very knowledgeable officer," she says. "You can always turn to him if you have a question. He should do well in his new role and I wish him well."

Schirmer has kept his pilot licence up to date and continues to fly recreationally. When he heard of the OPP program, he applied; he was accepted on April 1.

"This is a marriage of my two careers," he says. Const. Schirmer's move will mean a sergeant position; initially he will be an acting sergeant.

Killaloe OPP S/Sgt. Darren Luckasavitch is very happy for Const. Schirmer.

"Hans is a pilot at heart," he says. "He now gets to do two jobs he loves. I'm sorry to see him go, but I know he'll do a great job."

Terri Schirmer is "extremely proud of Hans. This is what he's always wanted to do. The only way we'd leave here is if he could be a pilot."

The family is attached to the area - Terri says they have no immediate family here, so the friends they made became family.

"It will be hard to leave, but exciting too," she says.