Our Products, Your World – An interview peeking into the world of a bomb tech in Virginia Beach

This week, Morphix Technologies has the unique opportunity of presenting a look into the experiences of one of the Virginia Beach Police Department Bomb Squad Members. He has over two decades of experience in law enforcement behind him. Read along to partake in a discussion about the realities of explosives in the world today. He’ h been a part of several different teams since his start in law enforcement in the late 1990’s including narcotics teams, special operations, marine divers, and now the bomb squad handling HME’s and other explosive and chemical threats in the community.

How did you initially start in the police department? And then the bomb squad? Was it always your dream job, were you one of those kids that sported a police uniform every Halloween?

It’s funny you say that, because I was kind of a lost kid after high school. I had no idea what I wanted to do and wasn’t a great student in high school. Then after high school, I went to work construction, I did that for six months, with a friend of my dad and after six months, I said, “this is not what I want to do”. I got into Volunteer Rescue and started doing that, and I just got a love of community service. I loved being in the in the community and wearing a uniform and being out there to help people… Running rescue really gave me my basis for community service; it’s just the desire to be out there and help people in need really.

I mean, that’s what we all do it for; the adrenaline rushes and all that kind of stuff and chasing bad guys was all fun, but I think you get into this job by really wanting to be out there and helping people. It may sound cliche, but it’s really wild and it’s been fun.

That’s awesome, I know there are a lot of young people who don’t always know what they want out of life. It seems like law enforcement pushed you into something that you maybe didn’t expect but became an important part of your life. Can I ask, how was the transition to becoming a part of the team and once you were, what did taking on the new role look like?

When I was on the dive team, I had a buddy on the bomb squad and we worked in the precinct together. I was always kind of bugging him like, “hey, what do you guys do? What’s going on with you all?”. When a spot came open for somebody on the bomb squad, they didn’t have anybody who knew how to dive. He asked if I would be interested in being a part time bomb squad dive guy. And I was like, “yeah, absolutely! Why not?”

Once you get on to the bomb squad, you start transitioning into this all this whole big other world that the bomb squad is a part of. Not only do we do bombs as our main job, but now we’re integrated into the dive team. Now we’re integrated fully into the SWAT team. Now we do explosive breaching, now we do stabilization for radiological dispersal devices and improvised nuclear devices. We handle anything of explosive nature in the city, it’s our job is to make sure that it’s safe for the public.

What has been one of your biggest epiphanies: the moments of life-defining change that shaped you into the person you are today?

I think having my daughter is one. You know, she’s born in 2009. That also was a turning point for me, before that I’m doing all this drug work in the communities, right? And it’s like, I want to get in narcotics. That’s what I want to do, right? I mean, that’s where I want to go. After having my daughter, I had to take a step back. I asked, ” do I really want to be sitting next to another drug dealer who’s armed, in a car making drug deals?”. Maybe that’s not what I want to do. So that’s actually when I applied to the marine patrol and got on. And that’s obviously how I got here today. It’s funny how our lives take certain paths, and if I had gone the narcotics route, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything like this. Now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

That’s interesting, and I’m happy that you were able to find your ‘right place’. That being said, what drives you to do this job? Even though it is still dangerous sometimes.

I think anytime something bad happens- for instance, you start seeing these school shootings- and as a police officer, it kind of angers you, the senselessness of it angers you. You just want to be out there and help.

You’ve been in this line of work for a while, how have you seen a shift in bomb threats and responses over the years?

I think I’ve noticed a big change in our response to different things. Two major events really sparked a greater response. First, you had the Boston Marathon bombing and then after that the bombing in New Jersey: pipe bombs in trash cans during another race. Those two cases really changed the landscape of our job. Like how to prepare for large scale events in the city. When I first started, we wouldn’t go out to those things at all. Now, every large event in the city, we’re taking them on. We’re doing pre sweeps and not only that, but now we’re staged down there in the in the area, for anything that may come up.

Things have definitely seen an uptick since I’ve been here, because of all those factors. I feel like the capabilities have come a long way and in just the six years that I’ve been doing this, they really have. I mean, it’s uncommon now to see a squad that doesn’t have the ability to operate pretty quickly on something.

You mentioned you’ve seen a lot of evolution but do you see anything in the future? How about the technology or capabilities that are currently in use and how they might translate into some bigger things? Or is it just that bomb squads get bigger?

Well, that’s pretty much it, to be honest with you, I think there’s only about 500 accredited bomb squads nationwide and only about 3000 bomb techs. And that number seems to stay that, pretty steady, because they can only get so many guys through a school every year, and you have guys that retire and move out all the time. So that number doesn’t really seem to grow and always kind of stay around the same. What we do to counter that is we have memorandums of understanding and cooperation with other agencies, around here in this area, you have Virginia Beach bomb squad, Norfolk bomb squad, Newport News, bomb squad, the state police, and then we have bomb techs with the FBI.

When it comes to a large-scale event, here, we just pull. We pull together and we come together, we’re all training the same to a standard. We’re all trained in the same place, we all pretty much- in this area- have the same equipment. So, we know everything works. And we just come together and we bring our equipment and we and we go out and do our job. I think more so than technology, you’re going to see changes in tactics and procedures and stuff like that. I mean, there’s always new technology that comes with advancements in our bomb suits to make them safer, make them lighter; technology, the different equipment will always keep getting better.

Why is it important to have access to explosive detection kits in general for field use?

When it comes to explosive detection, for us, I think that it’s extremely helpful when we’re dealing with unknowns. We’re going to a response and you go to something where you have possible explosive powders, or you might have a possible explosive device or something like that. When we get there, explosive detection is extremely helpful for us. When we get on a scene to determine whether or not there’s something that we need to be concerned about we can have a quick diagnosis of what it is, and why it’s explosive or why it’s not explosive. All of that goes into our threat assessment of what we’re dealing with in our scene.

We’ve done a lot of homemade explosive training and part of that training is to how to test these materials, these powders, and see are they explosive, or are they not? You have heat shock and friction tests, which we’re going to do on everything, but then we’re also going to do some type of identification tests on it as well, to see exactly what it’s made of. Is it a chlorine base is? Is it a nitrate base? You know, all that stuff matters. What we can do with it, and how we can make it safe? Is it safe to handle? Or is it more sensitive than something else? All of that kind of plays into the safety of what we’re doing in our job.

What about an example in your recent or daily use?

We had a case recently where one of our guys responded to a school because they thought that there was an improvised firework device. He got there and it looked like it had black powder in it. So, we used a colorimetric kit to test it, and didn’t come back as anything. The guy said it was nothing, but we’re not going to believe him, we’re going to test it. Something like a colorimetric kit is very readily accessible. They’re inexpensive, it’s quick and easy to use and not only can we use those, but we can easily train other first responders how to use those. I mean, obviously, we don’t want them going down on something that they think is explosive, but, if they come into the situation, you might be able to train some guys to say, “hey, is this something we need to be concerned about, or not?”

Want to know more about Morphix products as they relate to the Law Enforcement industry? Take a look at our industry page here!