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Why I Joined the Bomb Squad

I'm a detective assigned to major crimes, so what's my attraction to things that go boom?

September 01, 2008  |  by David Spraggs

Car Bombs

The federal government is also assisting squads with training and funding. Because of the prevalence of incidents in the United States and abroad involving vehicles as bombs—the common term is vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED)—training has had to evolve to keep up with this growing threat.

New classes like the large vehicle IED countermeasures class and VBIED post-blast investigation class are funded by the federal government in an effort to keep bomb squads ahead of the curve. Regarding funding and equipment, the FBI has taken a lead role in procuring numerous pieces of specialized equipment for bomb squads. Homeland security grant opportunities and other federal grants assist squads in replacing or purchasing required equipment. Seeing that an industry standard Remotec Andros 6A bomb robot costs around $175,000, grants are a must for all but the largest bomb squads.

To say the least it's a challenging and dynamic time for bomb squads in the United States. But the mission is the same as it's always been: to safely respond to and render safe dangerous devices.

Still, the 21st century brings some new challenges that bomb squads have to be prepared for, including IEDs, VBIEDs, chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear devices, and radiological weapons. Mass casualty terrorism will happen again on American soil; it's just a matter of time.

In my humble opinion, the saving grace is that America's law enforcement bomb squads will continue to diligently prepare for, train for, and respond to future incidents with the utmost safety and professionalism.

The International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI) is the premier professional organization for bomb technicians. Its motto is "Concunentes Provolationem." This translates from the Latin into "Meeting the Challenge." That says it all, for them and for me.


How to Become a Bomb Technician

My road to becoming a bomb technician has been a long one. The main reason is because the last time there was an opening on my department's team was 10 years ago. So bomb tech is not an easy assignment to get.

That said, I'd like to offer some advice to cops who are thinking about joining their local bomb squad.

First, make sure you meet all of the prerequisites set by your squad. Prerequisites may include length of service, specific training, and above average annual reviews.

Second, get your foot in the door early. Talk to current squad members and let them know you're interested in this type of work. Try to attend a couple of bomb squad training days to gain a good understanding of what the job entails. When it comes time to test you may have your foot in the door because the team already knows your name and that you've shown some interest.

Also, my team was looking for some investigative experience, and specifically an officer with crime scene investigation experience. I'm currently assigned to detectives and have been a CSI for years. In that time I took a couple of arson and post-blast investigation classes to help prepare myself. The bomb squad is responsible for post-blast investigation so any training along this line should help.

My testing for the team included a written test, an oral board, and a practical exercise. The practical exercise consisted of operating in the full bomb suit and completing a series of tasks including carrying X-ray and disruption equipment a couple of hundred feet, then getting down to ground level and setting up the gear, and finally walking back to the start.

If it's possible, I recommend that you get dressed in a full bomb suit before the testing so you will have some idea if you can function in the suit.

Denver PD Bomb Squad Commander Dave Marker says he's looking for some specific traits when it comes to new team members. He wants candidates who are willing to work with the team, have some mechanical and electronics aptitude, and are able to logically think through a problem and then take the required action to solve the problem.

Once you're accepted onto the bomb squad, it's about an 18-month wait list to get into the Hazardous Devices School. You have to meet height/weight guidelines, have a full physical including a hearing test and an eye exam, and undergo a background check to attend HDS. All new techs must complete a 40-hour technician level HAZMAT class before attending HDS. Contact your local bomb squad commander for more details.

David Spraggs is a major crimes detective and a certified bomb tech for the Boulder (Colo.) Police Department. He is a member of the Police Advisory Board and a frequent contributor.


PHOTOS: Joining the Bomb Squad

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