November 30, 2021
There's no guidebook when it comes to dismantling a bomb.
"That would make our jobs a lot easier," joked Lt. Ashland Bray, Team Leader for the Michigan State Police's Bomb Squad. "But we're often seeing something new."
The team, which consists of 12 members stationed across the state, leans on extensive training, continuing education, technology and, even in the most difficult scenarios, trust and intuition. As Lieutenant Bray explains, "To be successful as a bomb tech, you have to have an understanding of how things can function."
The Bomb Squad averages 550 calls for service a year. That's everything from investigating suspicious, unattended packages, to responding to bomb threats and found military ordinances like hand grenades, to performing a sweep for explosives ahead of a dignitary visit.
"At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with everyone being at home and cleaning, we definitely saw an increase in the number of war relics found," said Lieutenant Bray. "Our message is always 'Leave it where it's at.' If you find something, we want you to report it to your local police agency and we'll come out and determine if it's safe to keep."
Each full-time bomb technician has at least 15 years on the squad. They work in pairs, utilizing a wide range of tools like robots, K9s and x-ray machines to show them what they can't see by just looking at the surface of an object.
"When I first started, we developed film in the field and hand cranked the machines," said Lieutenant Bray. "That was only 17 years ago. Now it's all digital and 3D, even remote and robotic."
The MSP Bomb Squad is regarded as a leader in the field, even utilized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assess products and equipment and to write procedures.
"The program is called the Bomb Squad Test Bed," explained Lieutenant Bray. "We've been doing this since 2009. Manufacturers rely on us to assess what they've made to make sure that everything is effective and safe. Most recently we helped prove the Power Hawk System for use by bomb squads around the country."
The Power Hawk is an all-electric, jaws type rescue tool that can be used to force entry and cut steel remotely, originally created to identify issues with removing vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices especially in newer model vehicles. It also allows officers to breach mechanical systems and open locks and reinforced doors, all of which are critical capabilities when dealing with an improvised explosive device of any kind.
"Being part of the Test Bed has been an awesome experience for our team and the department," said Lieutenant Bray. "We play a significant role in helping other bomb technicians do the best they can to protect themselves and ultimately the public we serve."