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Debunking myths about bomb squad units

The majority of public safety bomb squads are part-time — we're usually on patrol until a bomb call comes in

A few weeks ago, PoliceOne asked me “do something about ‘The Bomb Guys’,” to include in the articles this month profiling the so-called special teams around the country that support the Patrol Division. I say “so-called’ because having been on several such teams over the past 20 years, I can tell you that honestly, they aren’t special.

Now, before you fire up the angry-email-omatic, give me a second to explain. Yes, it is very, very exciting to be accepted onto a special team. When I finally weaseled my way onto the Knox County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Department Hazardous Devices Unit, I literally welled up with emotion. It was one of the pinnacles of my career, and to this day, I’m still very grateful to the people who helped make that happen.

But because occasionally, a very small number of people who occupy special teams seem to develop the dreaded “I’m-on-a-special-team-therefore-I-must-be-special-by-association-disease” I want people to understand that units like the Bomb Squad, Dive Team, and Bike Patrol are not “favored” or “better” than Patrol. They’re just tools in the toolbox — instead of every Patrolperson having to be a specialist in everything, its’ nice to be able to call out a K9, or get a Criminalistics guy to come and bag stuff up.

Now that I’ve gotten a significant portion of you readers all upset, P1 asked me to give you the four-minute speech on the Bomb Squad, so here it goes.

The Bomb Squad — a.k.a. the Hazardous Devices Unit, or erroneously, Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit — is a special team tasked with several missions.

The primary mission of a Bomb Squad is to locate, diagnose, render safe, and make safe to investigate, bombs. Bomb Squads also dispose of old explosives and ammunition (which might sound strange to city dwellers, but old explosives and ammunition are commonplace in the country). Squads are also tasked with assisting other units on a regular basis; for instance a Bomb Technician (or Tech for short) may assist the SWAT or Warrant Service Unit on an entry by helping to look for and work around booby-traps. A Tech may assist a Haz-Mat or Clan Lab Unit because making homebrew drugs and homebrew explosives all are based on the same organic chemistry procedures. Techs always are present when a VIP is due to make a stop — they sweep the venue for bombs, and stand by for certain contingencies. Finally, Techs also conduct outreach, teaching every kind of group from small children through private businesses all the way to other law enforcement agencies how to identify and avoid bombs.

This sounds like a full plate, especially factoring in all the preventative maintenance of the equipment, testifying in court (you don’t think we can just blow something up and walk away, do you? It may be a bomb, but it’s still also a crime scene), and generally being a stud and looking good.

The truth is, the majority of public safety bomb squads are part-time. This means the Techs are also Patrol, or Detectives, or anything else until a bomb call comes in.

When people find out about my passion, the number one question I always get is: “Why?”

I’m sorry to disappoint, but I can’t answer it any more than the Harley guy, or the private pilot, or the artist can. Either it’s something for you, or it’s not.

Other questions involve what dangers might be involved, and how to join. As far as the danger aspect, some call-outs have their moments, but if I had the choice, I’d rather disarm a bomb than deal with an angry spouse, if you get my drift!

Because there is little turnover, it is hard to get onto a Bomb Squad. Contrary to myth, few (if any) people are hired off the street and placed onto a Squad. There is little you can do to improve your odds on being selected. There are no schools that you can send yourself to that the Squads can accept. Prior military service also sadly, many times is not a plus, even if you were EOD (that’s another article entirely).

Being in decent shape is a plus, but not a deciding factor. The number one trait most squads look for is: can you follow orders exactly, no more, no less? Are you inquisitive? Can you grasp linear procedures? Do you have mechanical aptitude? Are you claustrophobic or allergic to the things Techs tend to see on a regular basis?

That’s the Squad in a nutshell. It is an increasingly complicated, technical field. With the growing fears concerning WMD, it will be a growth industry, for at least the next five or six years. I’ve found it incredibly rewarding, and of all the things I’ve done, it is the second most exclusive of all the teams.

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