Then I Heard the Voice of the Lord Saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us”? And I said, “Here I am send me”

Isaiah 6:8 Old Testament

By Sgt. Chris Connolly, Supervisor Explosive Ordnance Unit, Boston Police Department

In 1973 the Boston Police Explosive Ordnance Unit was formed out of a need for trained technicians to respond to the dozens of bombings happening in the early 70’s throughout the U.S. These bombing were happening at an alarming rate due to the social unrest at the time and the underground groups that had formed, such as the “Weather Underground” and the “New World Liberation Front”, to name a few. Most police departments were not equipped to handle such calls and so began the rise of the many “Bomb Squads” that would eventually become a specialized unit and response to Improvised Explosive Devices for most police agencies.

Our unit, as it proudly stands today, consists of (17) full time Bomb Technicians who handle all calls for service dealing with “Unattended/Suspicious Packages, found military ordinance, protective sweeps and the myriad of large special events that the City of Boston entertains. Our unit also has dedicated teams to the large sporting venues (Fenway Park; TD Garden) during all games and concerts.

The Unit has the capability of responding to several simultaneous incidents around the city and Metro Boston Region if needed. Our equipment consists of several size robotic platforms, an array of different “Render Safe” tools and many types of diagnostic equipment that we use in our response.

All of technicians are sworn police officers that undergo a selection process prior to attending the F.B.I. Hazardous Device School located at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. The basic certification is a 6 week program that every U.S. public Safety Bomb Technician must successfully pass in order to be certified to conduct “Render Safe” operations. As our technicians become more skilled they will apply to the countless trainings that are offered by both the F.B.I and A.T.F. These trainings consist of Advanced Explosive Demolition Technique training, Home Made Explosive response & mitigation, Vehicle Borne I.E.D. response & mitigation as well as many others.

Boston Police Explosive Ordnance Unit K-9 provides sweep Of Moakley Federal Courthouse during trial of Boston Marathon Bombing suspect Dzhokahar Tsarnaev-Courtesy; USA Today

We also explore trainings through private contractors from different parts of the world that are consistently dealing with the threat of IED’s. This allows us to receive the knowledge and experience of others and use this information and training to identify any gaps we may have in our response. For example, “If Israeli and/or British Military Bomb Technicians are utilizing some tool or tactic that is effective in their response, we want to know what it is and how best do we utilize it in our response in the states”.

Our training needs to be continuous and effective as we have had our share of tragedies over the years where some of our brave technicians have been killed and/or severely injured while diagnosing IED’s.

In 1985 Bomb Technician Randy LaMattina, a seasoned veteran of the unit, was severely injured when an IED detonated while he was attempting to remove the device from a Single-Vent Bomb Vessel in an attempt to render it safe. He sustained severe facial lacerations and needed extensive reconstructive surgery to his hands and face. He has since recovered and enjoying life.

In 1991 Bomb Technicians Jeremiah “Jerry” Hurly and Frank Foley responded to a suspicious device that had fallen off the underside of a motor vehicle. As they were examining the device it detonated killing Officer Hurley and severely injuring Officer Foley. Officer Foley was maimed losing an eye but otherwise fully recovered.

These incidents are a constant reminder to all Bomb Technicians of the dangers of our profession and the need to be ready for anything.

As many are aware the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing was the ultimate test of urban public safety bomb squads in this country. The large crowd of civilians, coupled with (2) Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive devices (Detonating about 8 seconds apart) and the many bags and items left behind all posed many challenges for our unit.

CCTV footage pressure cooker IED detonation; Boston Marathon 2013

Challenges: 1. First responders (Police; Fire; Emergency Medical Technicians) responding into a scene that has not been cleared of additional devices to remove injured. 2. Most Explosive Ordnance Unit assets were at the (2) Bomb sites and additional assets needed for calls for other suspicious items outside perimeter. 3. Bags, Back packs and personal items left behind from fleeing civilians that may have contained additional IED’s.

Boston Police Bomb Squad use one of their "TALON" robots to investigate a Suspicious suitcase left next to a Department of Homeland Security vehicle.

Response:

Some of the training from private contractors allowed us to assess the items that were discarded and quickly clear sufficient areas where additional first responders could triage victims. Past continuous F.B.I. regional EOD training among area Bomb Squads allowed for an easy and fluid integration as squads responded to suspicious items around the outside perimeter and city. U.S. Public Safety Bomb Squads having been trained to the same standards which made them tactically sound and our response was given a “Best Practice” designation for the New England Region Bomb Squads that responded to the 2013 Boston marathon attack. Over the course of the 4 days that followed the Bombing and before the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the Boston Police Explosive Ordnance Unit responded to 196 calls for service. To put that in perspective our average yearly calls for service were around 350 prior to 2013. As the years have passed from the incident our unit has evolved with an increase of response vehicles and equipment. The technological advances which have centered on tactics used by Bomb Squads throughout the country have become part of our overall response. Backpacks used for dismounted operations containing small portable Nano X-Ray systems along with Carbon Fire Pan Disruptors that fit seamlessly in these bags have become the norm for us. These allow for a dynamic and efficient response during large scale events with enormous crowds.

UK based EWS Training - "Troy Phillips, Director of Business Development from EWS said: “This level of IED training is a key part of Boston maintaining their position as a cutting-edge team. In addition to experienced classroom-based training, we also create simulated real life IED situations with a multitude of realistic outcomes for operators to experience and learn from.

Our Bomb Technicians are paired with Federal, Local and State HazMat teams and provide an "All Hazard” approach during these large events. These “Joint Hazardous Response Teams” (JHRT) allow for an immediate assessment of suspicious items in areas where crowd dispersal or perimeter set up would prove difficult. This assessment brings together all the disciplines needed for an effective response against a CBRNE threat. We have continuously trained with our SWAT team becoming fully integrated to provide an EOD response based on the mission. Some scenarios will consist of hostage situations involving suspects with IED’s and/or Booby Traps. We provide a complimentary response alongside SWAT to carry out their mission while we mitigate any threats during the operation. One of the largest exercises that our unit has participated in was the 2011 and 2013 Urban Shield Exercise which included several large scale public safety incidents that occurred over a 24 hr. period. (6) Regional Explosive Ordnance Units rotated through several scenarios involving Vehicle Borne IED’s, Hostage Hand Entry, and a Chemical dispersal device. Each team was assessed and critiqued in their ability to successfully respond to and mitigate these threats. Having the ability to work collaboratively in this simulated environment allows us to operate effectively in a real- world scenario. Certainly our profession provides many challenges as we continue to evolve based on the anticipation of future attacks either foreign or domestic. The Boston Police Explosive Ordnance Unit, as do so many other U.S. Public Safety Bomb Squads, will continue to work together in our response to one of the most catastrophic weapons that can be used on our civilian population, “The Improvised Explosive Device”

Sgt. Connolly is a 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, assigned to the Explosive Ordinance Unit and has been a HDS Certified Bomb Technician for 15 years. He is trained in advanced explosive demolition techniques and is a graduate of both the FBI “NIEF” HME Course and ATF Homemade Explosives Program. He was Chairman of the 2011-2013 “Urban Shield” IED scenario committee which was responsible for planning, coordination and implementation of all IED scenarios during this multi-agency 24 Hr exercise. Sgt. Connolly was also the Supervisor in charge of all Boston Police Explosive Ordnance Personnel during the 2013 Boston Marathon and assisted with coordinating the response of outside agency EOD Units to calls for service immediately following the bombings. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice from Anna Maria College and has several certifications as it pertains to IED response and mitigation.