Helicopters, Vietnam, pigeons and campus security

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

It was by way of helicopter that Lanny Fritz got to where he is today.

The current campus security director obtained his private pilots licence while completing high school at Saint Mary’s in the late ’60s and was interested in pursuing a career as a helicopter pilot. There were a number of good helicopter flying jobs in northern Alberta at the time that caught his eye.

The problem was that a licence to fly helicopters cost a lot of money. Looking at the people who were getting hired in these positions, he noticed that many of them were Americans with military training, largely from the Vietnam War.

With this in mind, Fritz went to the United States consulate to sign up with the U.S. military and receive his helicopter training. He found out that the process would take between two and three years.

“That was my first plan,” said Fritz. “Plan B was to join the police department because there was some talk way back then that they might try to acquire helicopters. Police work also interested me and it seemed like a good career to get into. As it turned out, the police department didn’t get helicopters until way late in my career and my interests had changed [by] that time.”

During his 29-year tenure with the Calgary Police Service, Fritz worked in a number of different departments ranging from basic beat work, to the criminal intelligence unit and even the Olympics.

“I worked with the integrated criminal intelligence unit during the Olympics with the RCMP, where we did threat assessments on Olympic venues and the torch run, which we monitored across Canada,” said Fritz.

After nearly three decades with the CPS, Fritz retired. Shortly after, he applied and was hired as the manager of campus security, which evolved to campus security director.

“A couple times in my policing career I worked with security managers and investigators on the corporate security side and I thought that looked like an interesting line of work,” said Fritz.

His assumption turned out to be correct ­– during his first month on the job, the university received a bomb threat– and over the course of 11 years Fritz has seen his share of troubling and bizarre events.

The one that sticks out most in his mind took place in the summer of 1999. The equipment dealing with the Olympic Oval’s ammonia was under maintenance at the time and a malfunction at about 4 a.m. resulted in 3,000 pounds being released outside. A low hanging cloud of ammonia lingered above the Oval, which is only a short distance from the residence buildings. As a result, the residences were evacuated and everyone was driven to the Red and White Club at McMahon Stadium. Fritz and the rest of campus security were pleased at how well the situation was handled.

“Then we get this phone call from somebody in residence asking us to shut the damn alarm off, he can’t sleep,” said Fritz.

It was a Calgary Stampeders player who was staying in residence while training at the time.

Campus security quickly got him to the Red and White Club and double-checked all the rooms.

Though that event had the greatest impact upon Fritz, it is not the most bizarre incident that he has dealt with. During final exams a few years ago, a group of professors opened the gymnasium door to allow some fresh air into the stifling room, then left for a while.

“The instructors all come back and they see three or four pigeons up in the roof supports and they call us to get rid of them,” said Fritz.

Campus security tried a variety of methods to get the pigeons to leave. They made as much noise as they could, threw tennis balls at them, everything to try and scare them away. But all the pigeons did was move from one roof support to another.

Time was running out and, as it was one of the last days of exams, postponing the exam to another day was not an option ­– many of the students would be leaving the city for their hometowns after it was done.

“We continued poking broom sticks up there to try and get these birds to flutter outside,” said Fritz. “Nothing worked, so the decision was made to let the students come in to write the exam.”

Campus security crossed their fingers that there wouldn’t be a flood of complaints from the students.

“Luckily during that particular sitting, only one female student indicated that she didn’t appreciate the cooing of the pigeons,” said Fritz.

After the exam was over, campus security finally found a solution to their problem. Manager of risk management Janet Stein suggested they spread bread crumbs out the door.

They swiftly acted on this plan and then went home for the night. When they returned the next day they found that the pigeons were gone.

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