Bomb school is a blast E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

If an NYPD bomb tech is going to make a mistake attempting to defuse a truck wired with 250 pounds of highly explosive fertilizer, he ought to make it here. The Hazardous Devices School, a 450-acre campus in Huntsville, Ala., jointly run by the Army and FBI, is where rookie “bomb techs” and old pros assigned to the NYPD’s 108-year-old bomb squad come to make the errors that might be deadly in real life.

Training with military and FBI personnel, NYPD officers practice things like piloting bomb-disposal robots through a subway car.

“One of the best things about the school is you have the chance to make a mistake and walk away with your fingers,” Denis Mulcahy, an ex-bomb tech who attended 10 sessions at the school over his 20 years in the NYPD squad told reporters with The New York Post.

“If you make a mistake in class, you will never forget it and never make it again in a real-life situation.”

The school offers the only recognized certification program of its kind in the entire country. The school boasts a 90 percent graduation rate.

“The devices are devices, whether in a tall building or on the crowded streets of Times Square or a church in the Midwest. Once you identify the bomb, then you have to deal with it the same way,” Paul Carter, chief of the school told The Post.

Among the lessons cops learned recently was just what kind of damage the bomb planted in Times Sq. could have done had it worked.

“The actual explosion would have caused a lot of structural damage,” according to supervising instructor Thomas Epperson. “It would have gone down the block and the shock wave bounced off the walls out and up. It would have blown out windows blocks away.”

A lot of the training takes place while attendees are wearing a heavy and extremely hot Kevlar bomb suit.

“This isn’t Hollywood. We’ll show what is real,” said Floyd Pirtle, a supervising training instructor. “You only get one take in real life.’’

The most common bombs found in New York are old-fashioned, homemade pipe bombs of the match-head and gunpowder variety, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says.

Police find about 10 to 20 every year according to Browne.

NYPD bomb-squad commanding officer Lt. Mark Torre has his squad train several times a year in defusing IEDs common to Iraq and Afghanistan in case they turn up on city streets in Manhattan.

The federal government pays the entire $50,000-per-student tuition. There are also weeklong refreshers every three years.

Across the country there are some 3,189 active members of police- or fire-department bomb squads who have trained at the school which has graduated about 30,000 all-told.


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