Bomb Squads Aren't For the Faint Hearted

I know it's scary to get into this at the moment, but as authorities are about to check Paris Avenue's 1600 block for Dark Knight Shooter, James Holmes' booby traps, it's got my memories and historic intrigue in full flow. Despite recalling the time I...

Jul 20 2012, 9:40pm

I know it’s scary to get into this at the moment, but as authorities are about to check Paris Avenue’s 1600 block for Dark Knight Shooter, James Holmes’ booby traps, it’s got my memories and historic intrigue in full flow. Despite recalling the time I saw Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist at the Century 16 in Aurora, CO four years ago, the whole thing ignites a more parallel, more uncanny memory of mine.

I stood across the street from a shooting at the LDS’ Family History Library in Salt Lake City, 13 years ago. I was on a snowboarding trip with my dad. It was April 15th, 1999, and we were doing touristy things in downtown SLC, we had bought a VHS-C camcorder right before the incident at a Sears to document the trip. (Perhaps the extra 10 minutes it took to have that argument on S-VHS-C vs. VHS-C vs. Hi-8 saved us?) We were approaching the Mormon Temple across the street when a man-in-black-with-an-earpiece pulled a little old lady away from the rotating-door entrance of the Library. The adrenaline started throbbing. Motorcycle cops and SWAT flew up the street; the word of a shooting spread within a minute; a gunman was in the building. My dad tried to get me to do some live reporting while calling his MSNBC cohorts back in the Redmond, WA newsroom, but I just told him, “No, let’s get the fuck out of here, dad. Let’s go snowboarding.”

So, we went snowboarding in Park City that day, which was some of the eeriest and guiltiest snowboarding I’ve ever done. We would make intermittent stops in a mid-mountain lodge that afternoon. The shooter, a 70 year-old schizophrenic, was shot by police (and died later from the wounds) after he injured three and took the lives of two (Including a 55-year-old woman from our family’s hometown of Pleasant Hill, CA). I feverishly watched the ongoing investigations, which revolved around a bomb squad’s attempt to dismantle a pickup truck that’d supposedly belonged to the gunman.

Bomb Squad Taxonomy & Tools of the Trade

Here in New York, the City’s bomb squad has quite an interesting history. The New York Times remembers when NYC’s bomb squad in the 1940’s used to switch between monikers like ‘Anarchist Squad’ and ‘Radical Squad.’

Old school NYPD bomb squad getup (via)

It took until the 60’s and 70’s before settling on the generic ‘Bomb Squad.’ NYC has seen it’s fair share of bombs and threats, which makes me feel safer about choosing to live in the outer-borough. Like many other forces, NYPD uses dogs to help sniff out materials like C-4 and dynamite ingredients, here is their training manual: k9_bomb_dog.html. They won’t necessarily smell it all, because making a poor-man’s bomb or IED (improvised explosive device) at home can be pretty damn simple (hydrogen peroxide, swimming pool chemicals). Sting operations could be in for a surprise when believing they’ve just wandered into another meth lab — stinging nothing but a nostril.

Surviving a bomb blast (via)

Defusing bombs takes a lot of guts, and often it takes a precautionary robot, like the one used to search Holmes’ car last night, and around his neighborhood and apartment today.

Robot searches John Holmes’ block (via)

These hard-nerved explosives pros are yet another permutation of the spaceman-come-to-Earth, (I’ll spare the Pokémon analogy this time). Like firefighters, they don an uncomfortable 100-pound suit while getting up close and personal with those infamous wires: Red, blue, purple, green, black and white wires that can instantly decide life or death with the snip of a scissor. The Dangerous Jobs Guide says defusers make between $40,000 and $150,000 a year, and have 8 months to a year’s worth of training, with requirements like being able to quickly solve problems, to transcend Des’ree’s You Gotta Be while risking fatal explosions or an easy recipe for bad PTSD. I’m hoping there’s a good pension in it.