How to kill a perfectly good bomb squad


By Shawn Hughes

While it may be weirdly worded, there are more than a few across the country who will understand exactly what this months’ topic covers.

For the rest of you, in some respects, a Hazardous Devices Unit is no different than any other special team.

For the team to work, there has to be camaraderie and trust. There has to be some respect, and that needs to be balanced out with some forced humility.

Unfortunately, there are managers in the food chain who either were only children, or never participated in any social groups growing up. Tragically, these people occasionally are put in charge of a special team such as a Bomb Squad, with disastrous effects.

For those special teams saddled with such a manager, I offer a few points; look and see if this applies to your team. If you are a new manager, read the list and see if any of it applies to you. The team you save may be your own!

1. If you are in charge, but you never spent time as a Technician, or at least a Support Member, listen to me carefully: you do not know what you are doing. If you attempt to run the team as if you are a subject matter expert, you are making a terrible mistake. Consider listening to the people who actually do the job, and see what they perceive as important first. You will get much further, and develop a great deal of respect this route. If you were placed in charge as a political favor, but have no Tech background, your road will be triply hard. Being receptive to those you are entrusted with, and displaying a little deferential treatment to them will go a long, long way.

2. Taking the management course is not the same as going through the Tech Course.

3. Taking the Tech course and not spending some time actually running calls still leaves you with a lot to be desired.

4. Showing a great deal of preference to certain Squad members is bad for team health. I admit, having been a supervisor a couple of places in my life, it is very easy to overuse the ones who show a willingness to work. And, reward them. But, you also need to give the others a chance to fail. More often than not, just offering is all it takes to set a marginal performer back on the right path.

5. …goes in hand with number four. Allowing deadweight to remain on a Bomb Squad is a Bad Thing. It’s important to determine whether the individual in question is in fact a sandbagger, or simply ostracized by ‘the clique’. Give the person a few simple things to do. Wait for the excuses, or check to see how attentive to task they are. You’ll know then.

6. PROTECT YOUR FLOCK. One of the peculiarities of all special teams is internal and external strife. Internally, other special teams vie with your Bomb Squad for attention, funding, equipment, manpower and training time. Externally, other non-similar units may decide they now want to branch out and overlap your Bomb Squads’ job. Don’t be a passive boss (i.e., the “I’ve made Commander now leave me be until I can retire” syndrome); actively cheerlead and support your Squad. Maintain good relations with your command structure. Don’t have one? Cultivate it. Also support other Bomb Squads, and help to educate other entities who are not Bomb Squads why it benefits them to leave the bomb kicking to you and your team. Continuing the ‘protect your flock’ idea, help them to grow. Find them schools to attend. If they are having problems in an area, help them. Mentor the new people, and motivate the old ones. Gardens do not grow on their own.

7. Give them something to do. If the only time your Bomb Squad is working together is on a callout or in training, you are wasting valuable resources. There are many other organizations and departments who would love some training put on by your team. SWAT could use some ID and breaching help. Crime Scene Guys – go blow some stuff up, and let them see what it looks like. Bomb Squad Rodeos are a great thing, its’ a shame there aren’t more of them.

8. When your people screw up, punish them. But, when they do what they are told, or how they were trained, YOU BACK THEM UP. Even if its’ not politically or publicly in your best interests. Careers are made over years, and killed in seconds. The difference between having a career and not many times comes down to whether the administrative types choose to back up, or leave hanging in the wind, their employees. Every day you get at least one chance to be the best Boss the team has ever had, or to be “remember that self-serving prick they brought in that one time?” Who will you be today?

and, before you think I left the Techs out…

9. Ok. You got a new Commander. He or she isn’t the one you would have liked to have, or they are replacing someone you did like. Before you and the rest of the team swear a blood pact to run the new Boss off, consider giving them a chance. Sometimes, leadership can grow stale, and it takes new blood to take you and the rest of the team to a new level. Maybe even outside blood. Try to have some open dialog up front. Let them know your concerns. Try not to curse so much, they may not be used to that… yet. Giving them the benefit of a doubt at the front end at least shows you tried to get along at the back end.

10. Sure. Your first call in the Bomb Disposal business was when Og left Grog a stone tablet bomb. You have more campaign ribbons than Chesty Puller. After you rendered safe every munition the military had, you spent the next twenty years doing it for the cops. I understand. You are set in your ways. You like your coffee in the morning. The new kid pisses you off – he’s just too dang cheerful and eager to help. STOP RIGHT HERE. This is why ham radio is dying. No, he’s probably not going to listen to you any more than you did at his age. But you, for the betterment of this profession, aught to try and mentor the new guy. And, maybe occasionally listen. Once in a while, something newfangled comes along that really IS a better idea. Or, you can keep using your ice tongs. It’s up to you; you can leave things better than you found them, or not.

Teams live or die by their leadership (note that I didn’t say management, its’ NOT the same). In closing, be the kind of leader you would want to follow, and not necessarily what’s comfortable to be.

Before I sign off, there’s a topic I need to cover:

Stand up for part-time Canadians. I recently learned their official Officer Down Memorial specifically excludes part-time and Reserve Officers. This also is wrongheaded and a slap in the face of those who volunteer. I attempted to contact the Memorial for their side, but could not find an email. If someone from their site wishes to contact me, I’ll be happy to allow some rebuttal time. Otherwise, go and decide for yourself.

About the author

Shawn Hughes is an often controversial veteran Patrol Officer and Bomb Technician who now works for a Federal agency, but still consults for various agencies and private corporations when he isn’t writing or teaching. His articles have been published in three countries on two continents. He's written for the majority of law enforcement publications in the US, including the NTOA’s Tactical Edge, the IABTI’s Detonator, SWAT, Police, and others. His second book, on obtaining a job in Law Enforcement, is out now, with a third on lock technology in development. He can be reached at srh@esper.com .

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