PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Bomb Squad is a division of the state fire marshal’s office that provides specialized technical and tactical assistance to local, state and federal law enforcement.
It’s responsible for mitigating and investigating all incidents involving explosive materials and often acts as the first line of defense, securing an opening so police, SWAT teams and the FBI can enter a home or building believed to have fugitives inside.
The bomb squad will sometimes cross state lines. On April 13, 2013, they traveled to UMass Dartmouth to look for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“We secured the dorm room. We made sure there were no explosives left in there,” Fire Marshal Tim McLaughlin said.
While access was gained without having to breach the door, that’s not always the case. The bomb squad prepares for these and many other types of dangerous situations at its training facility in Exeter.
“It’s something we practice all the time so when we actually do it, we do it exactly like we do in practice,” Deputy State Fire Marshal Tech Tom Groff said.
Each member trains more than 32 hours per month.
Technician Bruce Quinn says while people are sleeping or not paying attention inside a building, the bomb squad preps the door for an explosion.
“There’s a window punch he puts on it, a shotgun primer which ignites the tube which will send a flame inside plastic into a blasting cap on the other end, which is attached to the charge,” he explained.
After the explosive strip is placed, they ignite the explosives. Once the door is breached, law enforcement can enter and investigate.
The bomb squad is also called in when suspicious packages or devices are found.
“A bomb tech will go in a bomb suit with an x-ray device, come back and determine if it’s hazardous or not,” Quinn said. “If it’s hazardous, we’ll render it safe, energizing it with explosives.”
Once the package is disrupted or taken away, investigators map out the debris field to collect evidence. The unit has approximately $4 million worth of specialized equipment including bomb suits, x-ray machines and robots.
The robots often act as the squad’s eyes and ears. According to Quinn, they’re also equipped with a firing system that can be remotely fired from inside the response van.
“The robot has four cameras, three joints, a gripper that rotates 360 degrees,” he added. “The wheels do come off if we need to get down and narrow in an alleyway.”
The gripper can pick up a package and relocate it to a safer place, transporting it in an airtight and radiation-sealed container.
“If the device had radioactive material in it, it’s safer being in here,” Groff said. “If it has chemical agents, even if it detonates inside, it’s all going to be contained inside the machine.”
McLaughlin says for the bomb squad, the training never ends because the team has to keep up with technology in order to defuse a dangerous situation.