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An effort has been underway to re-establish the partnership that existed between the Los Alamos Police Department and Los Alamos National Laboratory bomb teams.
“The LAPD has been working on rejoining forces with the lab’s bomb team for the last four or five months,” said Lt. Preston Ballew, commander of the LAPD Bomb Squad.
“Joining forces is a win-win situation.” Ballew said. “LANL’s team has the depth of experience that our team does not and yet we are law enforcement and bring jurisdictional authority so when we get together – it’s the best of both worlds.”
LAPD has jurisdictional authority to respond to all potential bombing incidents within the local region including Northern New Mexico and may also be called to assist other bomb squads throughout New Mexico, Southern Colorado and the Four Corners area.
LAPD trains with LANL technicians at TA-49.
“LANL’s bomb techs are definitely an asset not only to the laboratory but the community as a whole because they have a plethora of experience,” Ballew said.
“We tried separate operations for a couple of years but found great enhancement in working together as one large team. That’s really beneficial to us if we run into a big scene because together we have five robots and enough other resources and manpower to actually operate two scenes simultaneously should the need ever arise.”
Ballew explains that LANL’s hazardous devices technicians have military experience. Brad Lounsbury served on the explosive ordnance disposal team for the U.S. Navy and Chris Ory served on the explosive ordnance disposal team for the U.S. Army. The third member of LANL’s team is Bob Clark, who retired after years of service on the Allegheny Bomb Squad in Pittsburgh.
Los Alamos County’s bomb squad consists of six members including Ballew, Cpl. Sheldon Simpson, Cpl. Ben Hinrichs, Det. Jeremy Duran, Cpl. Oliver Morris and Cpl. Chris Ross. As a law enforcement agency, the team is FBI certified. Participation is voluntary and officers undergo rigorous competitive testing before selection for service on the squad, Ballew said.
LAPD bomb technicians receive training and certification at the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School (HDS) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. The technicians also receive hundreds of hours of additional advanced training and are required to attend recertification training and testing at HDS every three years, he said.
Four to five suspicious package calls come in on average every six months, he said.
One problem Ballew wants to make the public aware of is the danger of using explosive-looking devices in geocaching. Geocaching is a treasure hunting game in which participants use a global positioning device to hide and seek various containers with other participants.
Last summer, a camper discovered what looked like an IED near his RV in American Springs. It was made from PVC pipe, contained end caps and was found lying under a log.
“We deployed out there and rendered it safe, then come to find out it was a geocache filled with knickknacks,” Ballew said. “People need to be careful because when they make up a geocache that looks like an explosive device it causes an expensive expenditure of time, personnel and equipment.”
The LAPD received its emergency response vehicle from a $200,000 grant through the Department of Homeland Security in 2008. The vehicle is equipped to handle a variety of events and was recently deployed during a 19-hour standoff with a local resident known to have weapons inside his Bathtub Row home.
Bomb tech facts
•A bomb tech’s suit weights about 90 pounds
•Pants are constructed of fire-resistant Kevlar
•A ceramic trauma plate provides added protection
•A honeycomb plastic support covers the back to help prevent spinal cord injury
•A Kevlar jacket includes ceramic trauma plate around chest; also contains quick release toggles so bomb techs can spin out of their suits quickly when necessary
•Bomb techs rarely wear gloves, because hand agility and dexterity is critical
•Helmets weigh about 15 pounds and are equipped with amplifiers to increase ambient sounds and defoggers, lights and ventilation fans