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Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014

Bomb squad activated in Southeast Missouri

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

(Photo)
Sikeston Department of Public Safety Director Drew Juden discusses events that led to the formation of the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad.
SIKESTON -- With the activation of the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad, six-hour waits for equipment and personnel to safely assess and deal with bombs and other explosives should be a thing of the past.

The public got its first look at the bomb squad's equipment during a presentation Tuesday afternoon at Fire Station No. 1 on North West Street.

"This is a project that has been in the works for several years," said Drew Juden, director of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.

A $1.3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security routed through the State Emergency Management Agency is covering the cost of all the squad's equipment, according to Juden.

The squad will be staffed initially by five members of local law enforcement agencies.

Lt. Mike Williams, special operations commander for the Sikeston DPS, "has taken a tremendous leadership role for us," Juden said, and will serve as the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad's first commander.

Williams, along with Sgt. Thomas Conn from the Sikeston DPS, will be the first two of the team's five members to go through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's six week training course for bomb technicians.

Juden credited Special Agent Scott Taylor of the FBI's bomb team with putting them on the fast track and getting them into the next session, scheduled May 29 through July 7, so the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad can get up and running. Williams said it may be up to 18 months before the other three members can get in.

Cape Girardeau Police Chief Carl Kinnison said David Gilbertson will be Cape's bomb tech; Jackson Police Chief James Humphreys said Tony Henson will fill that role for Jackson; and Joe Craft was named as Poplar Bluff's bomb technician by Poplar Bluff Police Chief Danny Whiteley.

"I think we've got a great team here," Juden said.

Even after the initial training is complete, the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad will rely on the Missouri State Highway Patrol, FBI and ATF to assist and advise for about a year. "If you make a mistake it can be life ending," Juden said.

This area's need for a bomb squad was confirmed over the last week by three incidents, two of which made use of the new squad's bomb robot, according to Juden.

Juden said he first identified the need for a local bomb squad after an early morning bank robbery in August 2003.

DPS officers caught the suspect but found what appeared to be an explosive device strapped to his chest while handcuffing him and "spent the rest of the day waiting for assistance from the Highway Patrol Bomb Squad," he recalled.

Highway 61 and several businesses were shut down for about six hours while local officials waited in 100-degree weather for the Patrol's bomb squad to arrive.

The Patrol's bomb squad "did an excellent job and we still owe them a debt of gratitude," Juden said, but if the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad had been in place then, "the situation would have been over within a matter of hours."

Juden said they had already successfully established a Homeland Security team here. "We knew we could do it again with a bomb squad," he said.

The idea started as a partnership in which Sikeston officials would write the grant application and the Cape Girardeau Police Department would provide personnel.

The idea then expanded to include the Poplar Bluff and Jackson police departments and received outstanding support from the mayors, city managers and city councils from the four cities, Juden said.

"We will all benefit from it - it is a regional team," he said.

Juden said getting money from SEMA was the easy part - the hard part is putting lives on the line.

Even though being a bomb technician is a dangerous job, Gilbertson said there was fierce competition within the Cape Girardeau Police Department for the opportunity to "be a part of something special ... to be on the cutting edge of learning new skills."

Juden said that enthusiasm was shown in each of the participating departments and he believes the team will serve as a model for the rest of the state.

The team has two vehicles. A white pickup truck equipped with a light reconnaissance bomb suit will serve as the quick response vehicle and will be rotated around the four departments.

The team's main response vehicle, a large black "command, communications and control" truck equipped with two heavy bomb suits, the bomb robot and the total containment vessel will be deployed for major incidents and will be housed in Sikeston for the time being.

In order to ensure the fastest response times possible, all the team's equipment will be stored on the two trucks.

The bomb squad will also receive a total containment vessel which is 64 inches in diameter and can contain the explosion of up to 15 pounds of explosives around June 1, according to Williams.

At about $317,000, the total containment vessel is the single most expensive piece of equipment purchased for the bomb squad.

The bomb team will generally operate within a 150-mile radius responding to "anything that occurs in Southeast Missouri," Juden said. Having received federal funds, "we'll go anywhere we're called," he said, although he said it would be unlikely the team would be called to respond outside of the state.

Juden said the Southeast Missouri Regional Bomb Squad should be able to respond to calls in their primary response area within two hours.