Manufacturer of Bomb Detection and
Disposal Equipment specializing in
Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Detection
This story describes yet another chapter in my life. Of all my efforts I drew the most satisfaction from the design, development and manufacture of bomb detection equipment. It saved lives. As this story unfolds you will read of my thought process on how each product evolved. Wording will be selected very carefully in order not to encouragement anyone to build a bomb. To discourage that, it may interest you to know that most bomb makers blow themselves up!|
In the mid 60's most cities did not have dedicated bomb squads. Some of the larger cities, like New York, had people that regularly did their bomb work but that was usually secondary to their primary function.
When I began selling countermeasure equipment and teaching at Fort Holabird, Larry Linville, a DC police officer, approached me and asked about using my 1059 (you may click on any underlined product number to see a description of it. Use you BACK arrow to return to this story.) and contact microphone for bomb work. I listened to his stories about working on suspicious packages and it became obvious that the 1059 needed an automatic gain (volume) control (AGC). I immediately began manufacturing the 2049A that met most of his requirements. Eventually the US Army decided to standardize on that product and I sold hundreds, if not thousands, to them.
Larry introduced me to other police officers who were doing this "double duty." Sgt. Gil Karner of the Baltimore, City Police Department and I became close friends. Gil told me about a loosely knit association of bomb technicians that was forming from Florida to California to Boston. I accepted his invitation to join the group thereby making me a charter member. It became obvious, for a variety of reasons, that we would need input from crime scene investigators so they too were asked to join. The group eventually became known as the International Association of Bomb technician and Investigators (IABTI). The IABTI would consist of local and regional chapters operating under an international leadership.
It was during the chapter and regional meetings that I developed many of my ideas for new products. We would discuss a recent bombing and methods to defeat it, should it happen again. By the next meeting, I usually had a new product to show.
Rather than sitting around drinking beer and telling war stories we decided to add some educational fun to the meetings. At chapter and regional meetings it was mandatory that each bomb technician bring his own "inert" bomb. Obviously, no explosives were involved but to indicate that the bomb technician had failed in his or her effort to disarm the "bomb" we permitted buzzers, flashbulbs and small firecrackers to "announce" the failure. There were a LOT of failures! I absorbed all of their ideas on disarming and some were pretty unique.
Letter bombs were always a problem. Straighten a coat hanger, slide it through the small hole left by the flap, put a weight on the letter, put a weight on one end of the hanger, tie a string to the other end of the hanger, go a sufficient distance away, sharply pull the string and ZIP! the letter is open. Use a hair dryer to blow open the letter and examine the contents… all of course from a safe distance.
Several methods of handling pipe bombs were shown. Unfortunately, some of the procedures were downright dangerous. Keep in mind that the disrupter or water cannon had yet to enter the picture. Hook and line techniques were taught at Redstone Arsenal and relayed by word of mouth to the techs.
I translated as many ideas as I could into detection products. Some worked great and some eventually proved to be of little or no value. My name became widely recognized throughout the bomb technician community as the source for creative ideas.
It wasn't until we took our ideas out of the classroom and into the field that I experienced my first explosions. It seemed that members had an unending supply of explosives to do training exercises. There also seemed to be an unending supply of cars and buildings to blow up.
Usually we would strategically place a pound or two of explosives at the "seat" of the explosion in a recent bombing incident. A discussion of the bombing would follow. We would then carefully look over the car to see where various objects were located inside. Then we would back off a thousand feet or so, someone would yell "Fire in the hole!" and KABLAM! the car would fly into a jillion pieces. After any fire was put out, we returned to the car to learn every detail of the explosion. What type of explosive was it? Military or civilian? Where were the explosives placed? How many pounds? How far did the parts fly? What route did the explosion take as it ripped the car apart? Who would have died… and a whole bunch of other questions. I have fond memories of one of those exercises that was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Explosives were placed at two locations in the car… one in the trunk and one on the steering column. We fired the trunk first, did a cursory examination and then fired the one on the steering column. A detailed examination of the "crime scene" was then made. After enjoying some of the always present and ice-cold beer one of the techs pulled out a 6 pound military shape charge. It was placed directly over the engine block to see what damage it would do. We retreated farther than normal. After the obligatory "Fire in the hole!" the charge went off and it knocked most of us off of our feet. The hood went flying about 1,000 feet in the air. It was crumpled into the shape of a hang glider wing and off it flew like the space shuttle coming in for a landing. We watched as it disappeared from view over the horizon. Nothing was heard over the police radio so we assumed it didn't decapitate anyone or knock a plane out of the sky. We went back to what was left of the car and there was the engine block… straight down in a hole about 30 feet deep.
In another exercise Tom Brodie of the Miami, Dade County, Florida bomb squad wanted to show off his new bomb containment vehicle. It consisted of a ˝-inch thick steel bowl three feet in diameter with open top, sides about three feet high and sand in the bottom all mounted on a trailer. We placed a few sticks of dynamite in the vessel as a test. It was an overcast day with the ceiling at about 1,000 feet. When the dynamite was detonated, the shock wave flew up and bounced off of the low ceiling and returned to flatten us all. At the same time, there were some crows flying by and they took a rapid trip into the unknown. The shock wave blew a hole through all of the cloud layers and you could see the pretty blue sky. We were all glad an airplane wasn't up there.
The city of Virginia Beach gave us a building they no longer needed and we were free to blow it to pieces. We fired off a whole bunch of improvised bombs inside the building to see there effect. Then we got serious. " There were two rooms in the building. We put tables and chairs in each and taped pictures to the walls with duct tape. One pound of C4 military plastic explosive was placed on each table. One room was left as it was but the other was filled with fire fighting foam to see if it could suppress the blast. The explosive in the first room was detonated and doors, windows, pieces of the table and chairs flew everywhere. The explosive in the second room was detonated and all we heard was a loud WHOOMP. Nothing flew. Once the foam was blown out of the room by fire fighters fans, we could see that the table had a big hole in it, the chairs were sitting where the sat, and the picture were still on the wall. Chalk one up for fire fighting foam.
We had heard a great deal about military shaped charges and the wonders they could perform but they were not readily available to the average technician. We decided to try some ideas on the building. Someone mentioned that filling a Tupperware bowl with water and wrapping the bowl with detonating cord would make an improvised shape charge. We promptly put one together and propped it against the outside wall using a two by four. The device was detonated and sure enough, it knocked a four foot diameter hole through the cinder block wall. There was a small negative side. About eight hundred feet away was a three story abandoned factory building and when we looked, more than half of the windows were blown out. My blood ran cold… what if people were in there? We checked and no one was there. Phew!