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Topey joins Bomb Squad

Melissa Topey • Jun 24, 2013 at 8:09 AM

The color of the wires does not matter. It’s not like “The Hurt Locker” where a military bomb disposal team deals with a team leader they consider reckless.

The men on the Lorain County Bomb Squad are not risk takers. There are no rebel cowboys who take off their blast suits while working on a bomb. These volunteers work in a slow, tedious and safe manner. They do not have a death wish.

“You get one shot to do it right,” said Sgt. Randal Koubeck.

In fact, most of the time a bomb squad unit will use a robot and remain a safe distance away from what might be a live bomb. But sometimes the situation requires a delicate touch, so someone has to suit up.

Koubeck and Ian Wilkerson are the bomb technicians of the unit. 

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Koubeck jokes that they flip a coin to see who suits up for a call, but in actuality they take turns.

The 13 members of the Lorain County Bomb Squad are volunteers representing various area law enforcement agencies.

I wanted to know why someone would volunteer to walk up to a bomb.

“Better me than you,” Wilkerson said. 

These men can do something most of us would not be willing to do.

I, however, was determined to save my corner of the world from a bomb. I suited up and made my way to within inches of a training bomb.

Bomb team member Mike White builds most of the simulated bombs the team trains with.

“That is the fun part, building bombs,” he said.

I like blowing things up. I did, after all, blow up a lot of stone at a quarry recently.

White and Matthew Spears became real personal with me as they helped me don a 90-pound blast suit. The blast suit is made of Kevlar and thick protective plates. I was unable to pick up the heavy suit myself, not but once I had it on and the weight was distributed over my body, it was manageable. 

I was able to move, but because I am small the plates in the pants hit me at the knees, limiting my movement. I had to move like a Weeble Wobble — or like the younger brother in “A Christmas Story” when he wore his snowsuit. When they put the helmet on me, I was ready to go. White and Spears kept checking to make sure I was OK. The suit can feel very confining to someone who does not like to feel restricted, but I was good to go. 

Normally the tech would carry a portable X-ray and a disrupter. The suit I was wearing was too long in the arms, and my hands were hidden inside. Koubeck carried the equipment, and all three men walked with me. They had my back, just as they do with one another.

When the weight of the suit started to tire me out, the men suggested they bring the bomb closer to me.

“No way. I am fine, I am going to save the people,” I insisted. After all, they don’t get to cheat.

I finally reached our bomb, a can that was “suspicious.”

We set up the X-ray and started the timer.

I hobbled to a safe distance as quickly as I could. I knew when to call it and asked to get out of the suit.

The X-ray showed we had explosive components inside the can. We had a bomb.

The next step was the disruptor, a device that disables the bomb — in this case using high-pressure water.

To show me how it worked, they switched over to using a box to represent the bomb.

I grabbed the disruptor, and Wilkerson showed my how to set it up. We walked up close to the simulated bomb. If it had been a real explosive, we would have worn blast suits.

The goal is to destroy the power source for the detonator, Wilkerson said. A laser on the disruptor helped us position it precisely as we kept a mental picture in our heads of the X-ray image.

We moved back, and I yelled three times , “Fire in the hole!”I pushed a button on the remote. In the blink of an eye, the box in front of us jumped up and flew back. A hole appeared, and paper that had been inside (to represent explosive material) was blown out.“It did what it was supposed to — it blew the components out,” Wilkerson said.

“We made the world safe,” I said.

“Safe from dangerous boxes,” Wilkerson laughed.

Most often members of the Bomb Squad find themselves removing old unstable military ordinances, such as grenades and mortars, from the home of military veterans who have died.

My time with the bomb squad was fun but eye opening. These men go through in- depth, extensive and continual training to be on the bomb squad.

Members of the bomb squad try to stay in the suits for no more than 20 to 30 minutes. I could not imagine remaining in the blast suit that long.

Lorain County’s bomb squad can be called out to sites anywhere in Lorain, Erie, Huron, Sandusky and Seneca counties.

That saves taxpayers’ money, law officials said.

Koubeck has also saved money by seeking grants from entities such as Homeland Security, because the equipment a bomb squad uses is expensive. 

The robot sometimes sent to look at and neutralize possible bombs cost $180,000. A wireless operating system for the robot added another $55,000 to the price. 

Both pieces of equipment were purchased with grants, Koubeck said.

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