On Wednesday, four gasoline-filled milk jugs were wrapped in detonating cord outside a Las Vegas Fire Department training facility.
Bomb Squad tech Mark Duncan shouted “fire in the hole!” thrice.
A loud bang sent a ball of fire about 10 feet into the air in the eastern valley and a large plume of black smoke even higher into the clear desert sky. Duncan said the explosive weight of the blast, as part of a media demonstration, was the equivalent of 0.11 pounds of TNT.
Cmdt. Shon Saucedo said the team members wear two hats. The unit investigates arson within the Las Vegas city limits, but also serves as the bomb squad for all of southern Nevada.
“We are the law enforcement wing of Las Vegas Fire Rescue,” Saucedo said.
The team has two bomb response trucks. From inside, team members can remotely control robots and perform X-rays of possible explosive packages, Captain Jamie Sypniewicz said. The truck screens showed an example X-ray of a bagged pipe bomb.
“There are several things that we look for in order to determine whether we can send someone there or not,” Sypniewicz said.
“It’s basically a giant toolbox,” she said of the truck.
Technicians Hoyt Jarrard and Chris Henderson demonstrated what two of the bomb squad’s robots can do.
An older, larger F6 has a weapons platform, three cameras, and an extendable arm. Henderson remotely controlled the robot to pick up an orange traffic cone and carry it to drop it on a nearby cone. He said the F6 could lift about 100 pounds.
“If we can send a remote robot first, that’s what we’ll do,” Henderson said.
Jarrard controlled a newer, smaller ICOR mini-caliber, used for maneuvering in smaller areas. He said different calls require the use of robots to retrieve items or use the weapons on board to open them.
“We might have to move things around just to get to what we want to see,” Jarrard said.
If a robot is not an option, deminers wearing protective suits must go to the field to respond to a possible explosive.
A Med-Eng EOD 9N bomb suit worn by fire explorer Kevin Winston weighs approximately 90 pounds and provides thermal protection, overpressure protection, and fragmentation protection.
Captain Richard Brooks said the suit was “like wearing a queen size mattress”.
“It’s really hard to set up on your own,” he said. “If you have two people helping you out who know what they’re doing, you can get this thing started in under two minutes.”
He said each of the 12 technicians on the team has their own combination.
The demining team also uses explosives to open suspicious packages or carry out demolition work. Lt. Andrew Lewis demonstrated three different firing devices. He said every technician has their preferred method, and his is a shotgun priming device rather than an electric firing device or a remote firing device.
“This one works every time,” Lewis said.
Saucedo said he hopes the event will help educate the community about what the demining team does to keep the community safe and that despite technology, people are the heart of the team.
“At the very end of the day, a human being, a bomb tech has to go through this device and consider it safe,” Saucedo said.