Military service—If you are still in the Reserves or National Guard, you may be subject to call-up. Your agency may not want to spend two years training you only to lose you to an activation.
Traveling—In addition to out-of-town trips for training, if something large or national occurs, you may be asked to go and help. If you are the type that doesn’t like to be separated from your family for any period of time, this isn’t going to be a good career for you.
Ticket punching—Some people are badge collectors and want to spend a little time on every team possible. This is NOT a dig at other special teams by any means, but bomb disposal is a long-term avocation, not a resume pad or passing interest.
When conducting a self-assessment, the main drives you should have for tackling this job are a genuine interest in explosives disposal and a good supply of patience.
If accepted, you will not be the one in the suit for some time. You will be learning the craft through studying, training, and assisting. Only when your peers are confident in you and your abilities will you get to be the p1—the primary—on a bomb call.
Once you’ve talked it over with your family, read this article, and made your decision, the next step is to find out what your local team is doing. The majority of technicians stay with the program until retirement, so there might not be an opening for you. But don’t give up. As with anything worthwhile, persistence pays off.
Honestly, besides maintaining physical fitness, there really isn’t much you can do to improve your odds. The one thing that could tip the scales in your favor is already being a hazardous materials technician, due to the increased interest in weapons of mass destruction. One thing that surprisingly won’t give you an edge is prior military service as an EOD tech.
Once an opening finally arrives, most teams will hold a tryout to begin the weeding out process. They may put you in a bomb suit and have you carry some simulated equipment a distance. A surprising number of people can’t deal with the hot, heavy, confining ensemble. Did I mention hot?
The process differs among teams at this point. But the next step is generally a review board. The board, comprised of current team members, will have already talked to your patrol supervisor and some of your shiftmates to see what they think of you. You can expect to be asked about what would motivate you to run toward a bomb when everybody else is running away.
Once the interviews are done, they will make their selection. Hopefully, you’ll be the one.
Working as a bomb technician can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. The risks are great, the hours even longer than being a patrolman. But it is a pivotal role in the war on terrorism, and a guaranteed front–row seat to some of the most secretive and interesting training and incidents you can ever be a part of. It’s a tremendous challenge to stare down a live bomb, and not for everyone. But, it may be the job for you.
Shawn Hughes is a veteran patrol officer and bomb technician who now consults for various agencies and private corporations when he isn’t writing or teaching. He is a frequent contributor to Police and his new book on security vulnerabilities is due out soon.
Why Would You Want This Job?
Most special law enforcement teams incur an added risk above and beyond patrol, corrections, or administrative work. But some teams are more risky than others. Why volunteer for a position that has a guaranteed chance of coming nose to nose with a live, armed destructive device?
Of the select few who do (the numbers are kept intentionally hazy but hover in the very low thousands), there are a few reasons, but the biggest is temperament. Bomb disposal is an avocation with a calling, much like a religious or a medical career path. Believe it or not, there are more than a few people who truly enjoy working around and with hazardous devices.
A close second reason for becoming a bomb tech is being incurably curious. A bomb incident is the ultimate puzzle. Your job is to take something that you can’t see inside, can’t really move or touch, and make several important decisions.
• What’s in it?
• Is it dangerous?
• If it is, how does it work?
• How can you make it not work anymore with the least amount of damage practical?
• Why is it here?
• Who made it? (If you’re really good.)
If you are wrong, the penalty can occasionally be your death. Accepting the challenge and succeeding is tremendously rewarding and, truth be told, a bit of a rush. People most commonly associate bomb disposal with the suit and blowing some package up, but that really is the end of the “game.” The majority of the job is a mental challenge: figuring, calculating, estimating, comparing.
Another reason people become bomb techs is for the perks. An increasing number of agencies offer hazardous duty pay and on-call pay to bomb technicians. Technicians get more opportunities to go to schools and conferences. They are also usually included on any major operation or incident. This means high-profile cases and VIP details. Most technicians get take-home vehicles and a greater clothing allowance to purchase hazardous devices team uniforms and accessories. And, because of the qualities that make a good bomb technician, techs occasionally enjoy an edge in promotions and assignments.
Offsetting these reasons for being a bomb tech are the negatives. Increased time away from family and loved ones; increased risk of cardiovascular and nervous system damage; and increased opportunity for personal financial loss, personal injury, death, or the injury and death of those around you due to a single “oops” are the top issues.
Also, a rigorous selection and training regimen wash many out.
For these reasons, the number of bomb technicians and teams world-wide are low, but remain one of the best and most proficient special teams in law enforcement.