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Emergency Medical Services: Things That Go Boom

In January, I had the opportunity to attend Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings (IRTB) at New Mexico Tech (NMT) in Socorro, N.M. This class is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s First Responder Training, which also includes another class at New Mexico Tech as well as classes in Anniston, Ala., and at the Nevada Test Site.

I’ll say right now that each and every one of you, as well as your personnel, should attend this class.

In 2008, I attended the other New Mexico Tech class, Prevention and Response to Suicide Bombing Incidents, and found this to be very worthwhile. The information was timely, the instructors were extremely knowledgeable and it was worth the time and effort to attend. Several members from my department had attended IRTB and strongly recommended that I attend this class as well.

This 32-hour class is designed for “first responders who may respond to incidents involving explosives,” and you become immersed in it as soon as class starts. Three classes run simultaneously on the campus of NMT with approximately 50 students and three instructors in each class.

“Wait, I don’t respond to explosive incidents,” you say? Well, I would beg to differ, because if you’ve ever had a dry-ice or acid bomb blow up in your district, that’s an explosive incident.

“I haven’t had one of these either, so it still doesn’t apply.” Fireworks are low explosives and most everyone has had issues with these, and both of these items are addressed in the class. And that is just the beginning.

Over the course of just four days, you will

  • Learn about terrorism as a whole
  • Learn about energetic (aka explosive) materials and how to recognize these
  • Learn how to respond to incidents where detonation hasn’t and then has occurred
  • Learn how to deal with special situations
  • Learn about blast injuries
  • Review case studies
  • Spend time in the field laboratories

The case-study portion of my class dealt with three specific incidents: the Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City, the Columbine High School incident and the Discovery Building incident in Maryland.

Of my three instructors, one was a lieutenant with OKC PD and was at the Murrah Building and one was a sergeant in Colorado who responded to Columbine. All three were either on bomb squads or military EOD; their expertise was quickly evident and their personal experiences at these incidents reinforced the materials in the text.

However, that wasn’t the best part. Did you see the part above about field laboratories? That is the textbook name for going to the range and blowing things up. The quickest way for a person to understand a new concept is to read about it, discuss it and then witness or experience it. This course does that, and then some.

The first day at the range allows students to observe initiation devices and the results when they detonate.

Day two has students observing IEDs and a suicide vest. You’re allowed time to look at each device, discuss it with the instructor, witness the detonation, go back and look at the damage and further discuss the implications.

The last day at the range involves letter bombs, briefcase bombs and a vehicle bomb. The same process applies for this day as the previous. You’ll be amazed at what just two ounces of a certain explosive can do.

So, while the class is packed with a ton of information, the best part is that it’s free. Except for your actual time, there is no cost to attend, since DHS covers airfare, lodging, transportation, food and class materials. All first responders can apply, and my class had a full complement of career and volunteer personnel in fire, EMS, law enforcement, emergency management, airport police and school security.

Still not convinced? It can’t happen here? We expect it in New York City, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia, but not here.

Those same thoughts existed in Oklahoma City; Littleton, Colo.; and suburban Maryland. There are many other examples too, but in short, it can happen where you live.

Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t have more of these types of incidents. All you need is some fertilizer and fuel oil or perchlorate and vaseline, and you’ll have things that go boom.

Just remember that the amount of energetic material directly correlates to the size of the BOOM! The best place to learn this is in this class, not during a response.

Norris W. Croom III, EFO, CMO, is the deputy chief of operations for the Castle Rock (Colo.) Fire and Rescue Department. He’s been a member of the EMS Section since 1998 and currently serves as the section’s director at large.

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