DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. — This week, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is conducting training at the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) for first responders to learn about homemade explosives.
The training is part education in the classroom and in the field, where participants are learning about methods of investigating an explosion scene containing homemade explosive devices and what to do in the event they come across a potentially hazardous situation.
“One thing that we wanted to do locally is to provide training for emergency services, including EMS, fire, law enforcement, and the hospital on what to potentially look for in homemade explosives,” said Chief Deputy Jeff Stanley, bomb squad commander for the DCSO.
Stanley, who is a certified bomb technician, said their department, like many other regional or state bomb squads, responds to calls not only in Delaware County, but also outside their jurisdiction. He believes it’s crucial that interagency training occurs to get everyone on the same page when it comes to recognizing potential threats, including homemade explosives, and knowing when to notify the appropriate resources.
“It’s kind of an upcoming thing, you know, not only stateside, but also across other countries and eventually it potentially could get here, so we wanted to get a head of the curve a little bit and put on a little bit of awareness training,” said Stanley.
The training is happening over a two-day period and includes first responders from firefighters to EMS personnel and members of local and state law enforcement. In total, there are four sessions offered, each four hours, in an effort to expand the access to as many first responders as possible.
“What we’re doing is we’re reaching out to our state and local counterparts. We work hand-in-hand. As a bomb technician I work with the state and local counterparts with the bomb squads,” said Special Agent Brian Taylor, a bomb technician with the ATF.
Taylor said what they’re doing is trying to create a ‘force multiplier’ across agencies that are involved with the training, to make sure people are aware of the hazards that are potentially out there. It’s a reminder, he said, that no call is standard for first responders.
“If they’re going to something as simple as a domestic violence or if they’re going out on another type of callouts and they were not expecting to see something like this and then it’s something that they can visualize once they see it, they know that they might have an issue and who to call at that point in time,” said Taylor.
Because many of the first responders may be out on an unrelated call, Taylor said this type of training helps them be vigilant and even if it may not look like something is going on, they can scan for anything in or around a house and know if it’s not normal, and recognize that it’s time to call for additional resources.
“This is strictly so that they can identify any of the potential hazards and they can call either their state or local bomb technicians to come out,” said Taylor.
Interagency training and information swapping occurs frequently when it comes to preparing for various types of scenarios, Taylor said. He is based out of the ATF Indianapolis Field Office and said he works monthly with state and local bomb squads to learn about what they are working on and to provide the most updated information that would help in return.
“We work together, and our goal is to make sure that we continue to work together so that we can mitigate any of the new instances that might be on the horizon that’s coming up,” said Taylor. “We also know how to respond to it, that way we’re not behind the eight ball at that point.”
The DCSO Bomb disposal/Explosives Ordinance team is one of several accredited bomb squads in the state. It includes federally certified executive manager for bomb squads, three law enforcement certified bomb technicians and three support deputies trained to search for explosives.
Although their team responds to emergencies as needed, Stanley said he recognizes they’re not usually the first to respond to a scene, and why this training helps provide the needed training for people who do.
“We may not be the first on scene and more than likely, high percentage of the chance, we are not going to be the first on scene. It’s going to be other law enforcement agencies, it’s going to be fire, it’s going to be EMS,” said Stanley. “You know, when the meth labs popped up many years ago, that’s what they’re looking for and that’s what they’re used to. A lot of these homemade explosive labs, they look very similar to the meth labs or the methamphetamine labs, so we want to show them potential precursors of what they should be looking for, what could be a homemade explosive lab.”
During the training at a field near the DCSO, bomb technicians showed several different devices and what they look like when they’re detonated. One major noticeable difference between them is the size of the explosion and the color of the smoke.
“What we’re looking at when we see different color smoke is, just a simple thing as, that can give the investigator or the bomb squad members an idea of what kind of explosives they may be dealing with,” said Taylor.
Taylor said it is also an indicator of what could be a potential component inside the device or explosive that’s used. He said he believes the training held Tuesday is beneficial to being proactive in any situation where it may be needed.
“I think it’s worth noting that we had multiple agencies here and that brings out the fact that we are working well not only with just one particular agency, but we are bringing in a whole host of different agencies and we have that unified work coming together,” said Taylor.
One example of where these interagency trainings came into play was after the Greenwood Park Mall mass shooting in July 2022. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, another of the 12 hazardous device units in the state, responded to the mall to clear a package that turned out not to be an explosive device.
That day, the ATF also responded along with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department bomb squad, emphasizing the importance of why it is so crucial to train together to be able to respond seamlessly to a threat — whether it be legitimate or just a concern of a potential hazard.
“We did respond to that scene and we worked together, and because we have that relationship with our state and local counterparts, we were able to team up when we get on scene and we know what their procedures are, they know what our procedures are, and we have that shared mutual respect with that,” said Taylor.
Although this training focused specifically on homemade explosive devices and the educational aspect for first responders, certified bomb technicians also train for multiple disciplines when it comes to potential emergencies.
“They do happen. The HME, or homemade explosive side, is not very prevalent, thank goodness. However, the ‘I found grandpa’s dynamite in the garage that he’s had for 50+ years or a grenade that was brought overseas from when he was in the war,’ those calls are very frequent,” said Stanley.
The DCSO also took precautions during Tuesday’s training to make sure safety was the top priority. On site was EMS personnel during the detonation demonstration, roads nearby were blocked for several minutes to protect the public, and people living and working nearby were notified of what would be happening.
“Safety is obviously paramount. There are minimal requirements that we can do when we set off any type of explosive, whether it be training or the real world,” said Stanley.