SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – From a case of old dynamite in a shed to a case of terrorism, the Salt Lake City Bomb Squad is on the case.
Members of the SLC Bomb Task Force say that they’re constantly training because every call they get is a potentially explosive situation. Recently ABC4 News got to go along as they conducted a series of drills near Salt Lake City International Airport.
“Fire in the hole!” an officer yells just before a suitcase is blown up by a Bomb Squad robot. It’s a simulation for training but the detonation is real.
This scenario is one that the SLC Bomb Squad faced on back to back days in August.
The first suspicious package turned out to be a box of magazines left outside the offices of the American Civil Liberties Union. The second was a modified mosquito abatement device placed next to a mental health residential treatment center.
“Every call is a challenge,” Captain Lance VanDongen of the Salt Lake City Police Department said. “We have to be ready for anything from a misplaced package on a street corner to a terrorist incident…It could be catastrophic.”
“We’ve had a situation with a person with a suicide vest on that wanted to make a statement,” SLCPD Detective and Bomb Technician Todd Hyatt added. “And we had to deal with him. We’ve had people who have robbed banks using explosives.”
Occasionally an officer puts on a protective suit to defuse a bomb but not often according to Senior FBI Agent Kajetan Groicher.
“The Hollywood idea of a bomb tech going down and being hands-on on that device that is a very last resort kind of step,” Agent Groicher said. “We like to work remotely to the degree we can.”
That means rigging up lines to remove a bomb from a distance or utilizing one of their high tech robots equipped with cameras and a high-pressure water cannon. They’re a crucial tool in the arsenal of the Bomb Squad which has to be ready for anything from disposing of old mining explosives and military shells to isolating a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
“We’ve got some radiological detection equipment that everybody here is very well versed with,” Agent Groicher said. “That’s one of the things that keep us up at night. If that thing starts chattering at us we know we have a slightly different problem.”
Every one of these officers volunteered for this demanding and dangerous duty. They call it a brotherhood.
“It’s the right thing to do to keep people safe in the city we’ve sworn to protect and serve,” Capt. VanDongen said.
“What we want to do is to just make Salt Lake a safer place for all the residents that are here,” Agent Groicher said. “So not only can our neighbors and our friends go home and feel safe but that when we get home we can lay down our heads on our pillows with a clear conscience and know that we’ve done everything we can as well.”
For each of these officers, the road to protecting Utahns began in Alabama. They’ve all graduated from the FBI Hazardous Devices School where all U.S. bomb techs are trained.