Better than a movie: APD’s real live bomb squad in action

APD Lt. Yelton, left, and Sgt. Silberman, right, are shown here assisting the ATF in the seizure of approximately 2,000 pounds of Anfo (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil), dynamite and other explosives.

There’s 10 seconds left on the timer and you have to decide whether to cut the blue wire or the red wire…if the wrong decision is made the whole building is going to blow. If this sounds like the plot to every Bruce Willis movie, you are correct…but this is also (an exaggerated) introduction to the Asheville Police Department’s Bomb Squad.

Since 1999, officers with the Asheville Police Department have been serving on this specialty team. This team is regularly called in to respond to calls for service involving suspicious packages, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and commercial explosives. They also provide dignitary protection, bombing investigations, Hazardous Materials Operations, and support other specialty units – Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and the Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT). Lastly, they assist other jurisdictions such as the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in rendering safe IEDs and commercial explosives.

APD’s bomb squad is comprised of four officers who have undergone hours of additional training in order to become certified hazardous device technicians. The lowest level bomb technician is required to undertake:

  • 40 hours of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) Hazardous Materials Operator Training
  • 210 hours of the FBI’s Basic Hazardous Devices School
  • 40 hours of the FBI’s Bomb Disposal Robot Operator Course
  • Required in-service training (monthly and yearly)

Officers that serve on the Bomb Squad also serve in other positions within the department. Lt. Wallace Welch oversees the patrol division, Lt. William Yelton is over Special Operations, Detective Sergeant Joe Silberman is over the Sex Crimes Unit within the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and Detective Anthony Johnson is a computer crimes investigator.

One of the main things people associate with the bomb squad are robots. One of the tools that the APD Bomb Squad has is the Remotec F6A robot (think the robot from The Hurt Locker). This remote controlled robot has four cameras and a manipulator arm capable of lifting 25 pounds. It allows technicians to remove, and detonate, a bomb without physically handling it. They have x-rays to examine the interior of suspicious packages, bomb suits and a bomb truck.

To date this 2015 calendar year the Bomb Squad has responded to 47 calls for service, compared to the 49 total calls that were received in 2014. With every call for service these four technicians are suiting up in preparation to deal with a weapon that has the potential to cause harm and wreak havoc on the public.

It’s not like it is in the movies because it’s a real life situation they are facing on a regular basis; but rest assured, they know which wire to cut!