Dunn’s Dispatch: Terrorist Bomb Searching

By Vincent Dunn

Today, first-responding firefighters across the country are being asked to take life-saving action at suspected bomb incidents. In some instances, firefighters are requested to search for bombs and to evacuate suspected terrorist bomb areas. This occurs in cities and towns where police or state bomb experts do not have as fast a response time as the local firefighters; thus, firefighters should know some basic survival techniques for operating at bomb incidents.

Bomb Incidents

Firefighters may find themselves operating at terrorist bomb incidents in the following situations:

1. When it is discovered during operations at an explosion, a fire, or a collapse that the blast was the result of a terrorist bomb. This was the case in the 1993 World Trade Center explosion and the Oklahoma City bombing.
2. When an unexploded improvised explosive device (IED) is found during the overhaul stage (see also Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices: Planning and Response by August Vernon).
3. When the police calls a fire company to the scene for assistance in searching for a bomb or evacuating people from the suspected bomb area. This may occur where police on the scene need assistance to do this dangerous life-saving action and when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) response may take one hour or longer.

Situation #1: Fire Caused by a Terrorist Bomb

When at the scene of an explosion, a collapse, or a fire and you discover the incident was caused by a terrorist bomb, notify the police department, remove the injured people, and protect the exposed building against fire from a safe distance (see Blast Injuries by Art Andres for a table of evacuation distances). Use nearby buildings and vehicles as shields when protecting burning exposures.

Situation #2: Discovering a Terrorist Bomb After a Fire

If you discover an unexploded terrorist bomb after a fire has been extinguished do not disturb the bomb. Remove people from the area and withdraw a safe distance from the potential explosion area. Notify the police. Firefighters located at a safe area should prepare for a fire and building collapse. They may have to conduct a collapse and rescue operation and then prepare for a hazardous materials operation if the explosion is from a so-called “dirty bomb”–a traditional explosive combined with radioactive materials.

Situation # 3: Search and evacuate suspected bomb area

When called to a terrorist bomb incident by the police department, firefighters must report to the police officer in charge and assist as requested. If the police request firefighters to search for the bomb or to evacuate a building suspected of having a bomb, and the incident commander decides to comply with the request, he should call additional reinforcements. These backup firefighters are to prepare for an explosion and rescue. If there is an explosion, firefighters may have to rescue trapped firefighters and police. A collapse search-and-rescue operation may be needed, a defensive firefighting operation will be necessary to protect burning exposures, t and hazmat operations may have to be initiated.

For more information on this subject, go to vincentdunn.com or Google search “terrorist bomb searching.” Chief Dunn can be reached at 1-800-231-3388 or via e-mail at vincentdunn@earthlink.net.

Deputy Chief Dunn (Ret., Fire Department of New York) is the author of a number of textbooks, including the new Strategy of Firefighting (Fire Engineering, 2007), Collapse of Burning Buildings (Fire Engineering, 1988), Safety and Survival on the Fireground (Fire Engineering, 1992), and Command and Control of Fires and Emergencies (Fire Engineering, 1999).

Subjects: Terrorism, fire response to terrorist incidents, bomb searching, IEDs, firefighters in terror attacks

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