Friday, April 08, 2016

TOP STORY >> Ordnance unit defuses bombs

Leader staff writer

“It’s not a souvenir. Its sole purpose in life is to kill people,” said Master Sgt. John Carroll, referring to ordnances. Carroll is the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight chief at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The base EOD unit was called out last week after a Hot Springs resident found a Civil War-era explosive device while doing excavation work in Danville (Yell County).

According to reports, the man brought the item back to his home in Hot Springs and, after doing some research, realized it was a possible land mine and contacted Hot Springs Police. The department contacted the base and an EOD unit was sent out. The unit determined it was an explosive and disposed of it by detonating it at a landfill.

“Several people are upset that we took this suspected land mine and didn’t give it to a museum, but we can’t,” Carroll told The Leader on Thursday. “Liability prevents us from doing that. If we give it to somebody and someone gets killed, it comes back on us. If it’s explosive or suspected to be explosive we are taking possession of it, and we are getting rid of it in a safe and expedient method.”

“It all comes back to safety,” he said. “The safest thing is for us to make it go away. We’re gonna make it go away and what we’re not gonna do is turn it over to somebody.”

Summer tends to be a busier time for the unit because “people are out doing more. Hunting season, people go out in the woods, they start finding stuff in the woods.”

“If you have an explosive device in your home, call the authorities,” Carroll said. “Ordnance items are not good souvenirs to have.”

Carroll laid out the proper route to follow if you come across an ordnance or suspected explosive device.

First, do not touch it. “Not every ordnance was designed to go off at impact,” he said. “Some items are meant to go off at a later time. Just because it didn’t go off doesn’t mean its safe. It doesn’t mean it’s a dud. Duds aren’t safe.”

Second, mark the area off. This let’s the bomb unit know where to go when they are called out.

Third, report the item to the local authority. That could be city, county or state law enforcement.

“I can’t speak for the different agencies on how they operate, but most likely a bomb tech from one of those agencies will go out and look at it and if it’s a military ordnance they’re not supposed to touch it, they call us,” Carroll said. “We can’t take a call from any ‘Joe schmo.’ It has to be from an official agency. They would call us most likely, we have to direct them to the command post. All calls have to come from command post.”

“If we get the call, the first thing we’re going do is make sure command post is notified. Sometimes we get a call from the State Police, they’ll shoot us a text of the suspected item,” Carroll. “They know they also have to contact the command post, but they’ll give us a heads up so we know to start prepping our gear. Then they’ll contact the command post to make the official request.”

Agencies must also ask permission for the base EOD unit to respond off base.

“Ultimately, Little Rock Air Force Base is our primary mission,” Carroll said. “If we don’t have the manning due to other mission requirements, we wouldn’t be able to roll out. Or maybe there’s other safety concerns, maybe there’s lightning. I’m not going to have my guys out pulling explosives if they’re in the middle a thunderstorm where there’s lightning. Explosives, they just don’t get along very well with lightning. If it’s not safe for my guys they’re not going to roll out, not until it is.”

When the unit is given a go-ahead to respond they will gather the equipment needed, such as explosives, firearms and other classified materials that may be needed to diffuse or detonate the item. “The rest of it’s going to be situationally dependant,” he said. “There’s a primary checklist of things that will also go. We take several tools.”

The unit has to verify whether the ordnance is explosive or not. “We use some of our specialized equipment to try to find out the status of the suspected item. If it is explosive, or it’s suspected to be explosive, and we can’t verify it, you always have to err on the side of safety and assume that it is. If it’s deemed to be explosive, we can’t give it to anybody.”

“There is an inherent danger with explosives,” he continued. “If an item can be disposed of locally we will, but sometimes that’s not the best method. Sometimes you can’t find a place locally to dispose of it. If it’s something in downtown Little Rock, you can’t blow it up in downtown Little Rock. I’m going to have to transport it out of the city to dispose of it. We will transport occasionally to a safer location to do a safe disposal.”

“Our job in general, everything we do is in the interest of public safety,” he said. “Our primary mission is to prevent the loss of life or property in the safest way possible, however that may be.”

Last fall, the unit was called to Cabot to dispose of a Civil War-era cannon ball, to North Little Rock to dispose of a chain shot and to Pea Ridge to dispose of a James round. “Cannonballs, those are explosive,” he said. “The James round is by far the most hazardous.”

“A lot of people have this misconception that Civil War ordnances didn’t have explosives in them,” he said. “They think it’s just solid chunks of steel. And that is not the case. Explosives were weaponized hundreds of years ago. It’s estimated that the Chinese first stared using fireworks in the 10th Century. Explosives have been around for a minute. They just weren’t weaponized until later. By Civil War time, they were certainly weaponized.”

Occasionally the unit will be called when an elderly person has passed away and happened to have a souvenir, such as a hand grenade he may have brought home from World War I or II.

“That was allowed back then,” Carroll said. “And so, grandpa dies, and he has a hand grenade in the house. The odds are if it’s in grandpa’s old stash, it’s not armed and it’s safe to transport for us. It doesn’t mean it is, so we still have to do our typical routine of verifying its condition (before transport).”