WINOOSKI, Vt. – Meth houses are popping up all over the state. Just last year, police caught people cooking methamphetamine in five different Vermont counties. Now, we’re taking you past the crime scene tape inside a meth lab to see what investigators see as these drug cases unfold. And to learn what these labs look like and why police always tell us they’re so dangerous.
The call came in about a suspected meth lab at a crowded college dorm in Chittenden County.
“We have over 100 students that were actually removed from it,” Vt. State Police Lt. Reg Trayah said.
This scenario is just a drill but these first responders take the threat seriously.
“All egos get left out,” Trayah said.
To keep everyone alive, the bomb squad, hazmat, clandestine lab team and National Guard must work together.
“One of the largest factors for us going into these houses is we don’t know exactly what we are walking into,” Vt. State Police Tpr. Kaitlyn Armstrong said.
In the real world, troopers like Armstrong will not get a second chance if the methamphetamine blows up.
“If that explodes, someone is going to get seriously hurt or likely dead,” the incident commander said.
The nine-member State Police clandestine lab team invited me to suit up so I can show you how they protect us from these secret drug labs.
“So we don’t want any exposed skin because heaven forbid there’s some kind of flash or something,” Armstrong explained, helping me into the mask.
“We are going to go in. We are doing a recon,” the team leader said. “We’re not picking up anything.”
During our recon mission, we found three labs: one made of glass, two others in plastic soda bottles. The glass could shatter, so the bomb squad was assigned to dismantle it.
“Complacency is the number one killer, so you just have to be on your toes,” Vt. State Police Det. Tpr. Matthew Hill said.
The chemicals are volatile. The danger is real.
“We don’t really have time to play the ‘what if’ game, even though it’s kind of always in the back of your mind,” Armstrong said.
“Does your family worry when you respond to these kinds of things?” I asked.
“They probably do, but we don’t really talk about it too much,” said a trooper who specializes in catching meth cooks hiding in your neighborhood. We’re not identifying him because he works undercover.
“It makes people nervous when they see us pull into a scene, and they see us go on oxygen, and they realize they’ve been living next to this lab,” the trooper said.
He says most cooks in this state make meth in soda bottles. It’s called the one-pot method. And it’s what the team suspects is happening in this dorm room.
“People come in and out of the state that teach other people how to cook, leave their recipes behind,” Hill explained.
The ingredients are all legal. But when they’re mixed together they form a highly addictive and dangerous drug that can explode.
We put on special safety suits, sealed up every seam and protected our hands with fire-retardant gloves. Our mission was to get the rest of the drugs out of the room. I found it to be incredibly delicate work in really clumsy gear. Not to mention one false move could kill my whole team.
Hill said, “If we don’t go in and do our job safely, we just become part of the problem.”
And again, this was just a drill. State police didn’t actually put anyone at risk by letting me clean up real meth. But speaking of clean up, that’s when police worry most about innocent people getting hurt. Times like Green Up Day when unsuspecting volunteers are picking up trash. Meth cooks discard this stuff all over the place. So if you come across soda bottles that look funny, don’t touch them and call the police.