By Darren Skoldqvist
PoliceOne Special Contributor
Public Safety Bomb Technicians have been working to keep our communities safe since 1971, when the United States Army, who had previously been responsible for “diffusing bombs,” formally turned over that responsible to public safety. Since then, brave men and women have stepped forward to answer yet another call to protect and serve the public.
Unlike other specialty disciplines, a unique aspect of the training Bomb Technicians receive is the place they receive it. The Hazardous Devices School, established in 1971, is located on Redstone Arsenal Army Base in Huntsville, Alabama, and it is the only school of it’s kind. Accepting applicants from Police and Fire agencies having federally accredited bomb squads, “HDS” is the only place in the United States where bomb technicians are trained. Once one has graduated from HDS, Bomb Technicians join one of the smallest segments of public safety, with just over 3,000 certified bomb technicians operating in the country.
“Why would you want to work on bombs?!” is the most common question bomb technicians field, and the simplest, most common answer is, “I don’t know. It sounded interesting.” Try hard, and you won’t learn much more. What is common amongst bomb technicians is a thirst for the adrenaline that comes with new, often dangerous experiences. Recognized as a group of people who base their action on taking calculated risks, and in fact selected for the penchant for unconventional thinking, the people who choose pin on a “crab” do so for the opportunity to do something very few will ever even have a chance to see. The risk we take is only surpassed by the excitement and satisfaction of seeing what some call, “The Final Barrier Between Heaven and Hell!”
Being a bomb technician is not a position that relies on luck, but one that relies on risk. Taking the calculated risks we take relies on a great deal of training; a knowledge of chemistry, physics and electricity, and a nerve steady under the most stressful of situations are only a few of the skills required. Knowing that making the wrong choice—or taking the wrong risks—might result in the loss of lives or cause damage to homes and businesses, makes the task we set out to complete no easy one.
In the forty years Public Safety Bomb Technicians have been active, the tactics employed by would-be bombers has evolved from simple, Vietnam era booby traps to highly elaborate devices which can be activated from a world away. Just as the internet has revolutionized the world with access to information, it has brought to the public information and recipes for dangerous explosives once only found in eclectic book shops and passed hand-to-hand in the underground counter-culture of the anarchist fringe. Today, one only need search the internet for phrases heard in the news such as “TATP” to find a post on a bulletin board—or a video available for public access, guiding even the most inexperienced malcontent through the steps to make a deadly explosive device.
Just as the term improvised explosive device, or “IED,” has emerged from the war on terror, so has a renewed anti-government sentiment grown from the looming recession faced by so many otherwise law-abiding Americans. Cases such as the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and the Aurora, Colorado incident demonstrate a growing trend in American not only of “lone wolf jihadists” like Faisal Shazad, but bring to the surface the growing threat from the sovereign citizen movement. As separatists move to establish themselves outside the purview of the United States government, more incidents like these and the horrific bombings of the World Trade Center and the Murrah Federal building are what our bomb technicians seek to prevent.
Bomb Technicians answer a call to keep America safe by stepping forward when so many others would turn and run away. Why do we do it? The answer is simple; We do it to protect the freedom our communities enjoy.