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Emergency Responders Learn by "Blowing Things Up"

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Posted: Friday, September 14, 2018 12:00 am

What started with a long wait through the security checkpoint at the gate of Homestead Air Reserve Base turned into an “explosive” event. Clara Himel, the public informatin officer, led a caravan of reporters to a distant site set up for a demonstration and detonation of 15 different explosive devices.

We were observing a class presented by the Miami Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) along with the Florida Division of Investigative & Forensic Services and the Bureau of Fire, Arson, Explosives Investigation. The course provides students with instruction in explosives identification, IED component recognition, differentiating military and commercial explosives, evidence collection, and processing/forensics post-

explosion. Along the way we stopped before the runway for a tire check looking for small rocks. Seems the rocks get sucked into the jet engines causing damage. We continued and joined in the mix of participants and students who were mainly police and fire personnel, and investigators.

The program started out with an unexpected joke as one of the presenters tossed a stick of dynamite in a lady firefighter’s hands followed by a quick blast in the vicinity. As we settled down, all were given goggles and ear plugs. Each type of explosive was described, followed by a countdown... 3, 2, 1, blast. Several of us found it easier to keep one ear plug intact then using a finger to minimize the terrific noise of each blast.

We were taught to look for different characteristics of each detonation such as color, size of blast, sound and smoke. I was amazed how a blasting cap enhanced the size of a blast. Most impressive were two tires that were blasted some 500 feet in the air crashing to the ground in flames. This was done with just a ½ gallon of gasoline. 

On the downside, the message for the day was that the components for most of these bombs could be purchased at a variety of retail stores, along with blueprints from the internet. Sad to say, almost anyone can make an explosive device. In the mix of information was a talk on finding evidence from explosions such as to the type of materials used, perhaps leading to enough evidence to trace where components of the bomb were made or purchased. This led us to the question of how do they find and gather every piece of an exploded device.

We arrived to a grassy area to be greeted by Special Agent Canine Handler Certified Explosive Specialist Zane Dodds and his trusty partner Babs. Babs is a 1 ½ year old Labrador retriever who was rejected from a guide dog school for the legally blind because of her high energy level (see South Dade Newsleader article “Life Lessons from Beautiful Guide Dogs” June 9, 2017).

Babs was given a chance in a thirteen-week training program dealing with explosives detection and passed with honors. Babs was then assigned to Agent Zane for an additional 13-week mutual education. The demand for Babs and her new owner was south, so Agent Dodds and his family moved to Florida. The duo is on-call and have been used in police work throughout the county, sniffing out items such as shell casings.

It was time to head home to grab a sandwich and reunite with my own faithful Labrador. As the phone rang, I sat my late lunch on the lazyboy chair. Returning I found my sandwich gone and my dog licking her lips. Oh well, I guess she needs to go back to school.

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