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Science, Technology

Interview with a Bomb Disposal Expert: Meet the man who saved Trowbridge Town!

Should you cut the red wire or the blue wire? Quick! Time is running out! Red digits are already counting down from 10 seconds. With wire-cutters tentatively poised, a snip of the red wire and then…

Wait! Is bomb disposal really anything like what we see in the movies?

A few days ago, I wrote about the Trowbridge bomb scare. It was a pretty exciting event for us simple Wiltshire-folk. The centre of town was ‘locked-down’: All pedestrians and cars were diverted away by anxious-looking police officers. Meanwhile ambulances, fire engines and a bomb disposal team swarmed around The Shires Shopping Centre.

Trowbridge Police fight to keep control (photo: Wiltshire Times)

No-one came to harm and it was later discovered that the abandoned suitcase contained nothing more than a hat and a sock! But not quite everyone was relieved: One unimpressed Melksham resident asked “Was it really necessary to re-open the Shires?!”

Clearly, my high quality reporting of the event did not go unnoticed: Rikki, a Bomb Disposal Engineer from the Royal Logistics Corps who was there that fateful day had read my blog post and decided to get in touch. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass by to get the low-down on real-life bomb disposal, Rikki was kind enough to answer some of my questions:

How do you deal with the pressure?

What is modern-day bomb disposal all about?

How does it feel to have helped save both Trowbridge’s ‘Poundland’ and ‘Greggs’!?…

Life in the Bomb Squad

The British Army are responsible for all UK land-based bomb disposal outside of London

Saving the world from terrorist attack is not going to be a 9-5 job and Rikki knows it: He works shifts that mean for one whole week he is ‘on duty’ and could be called to investigate a suspected bomb at any time of the day. He tells me that when he’s not dealing with possible bombs, he is training and maintaining equipment.

Bomb disposal teams in the UK work in pairs, and call each other “Number One” and “Number Two“. Like Batman and Robin, Number One gets to wear the cool suit and gives all the orders, while Number Two drives the van, operates the robot and ‘loads the weapons’.

Rikki says to take what you see in the movies ‘with a pinch of salt’… there’s not much wire cutting involved in real life!

It seems that Rikki is also a pretty cool customer and he says that while he’s been working in the UK he loves the excitement and thrill of his job. He hasn’t worked in Afghanistan yet, but told me that when he does he expects plenty of scary moments…

Has life changed?

I asked Rikki whether things had changed since the UK government raised the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe”, he told me:

“Now that the threat state has risen, we have been busier; as people are a lot more careful. It feels like a never ending thing but we are well on our way from the IRA days. Now we have this [threat] it is never peaceful, however because of Northern Ireland we do have one of the best bomb squads in the world: Probably the second best behind the FBI. I do think a lot is going to change in the coming years as a lot of money is been put in to bombs disposal for the obvious reasons (Afghanistan).”

I tried to find out what exciting new technology he is playing with at the moment, but The Official Secrets Act meant he had to remain completely tight-lipped. Below is an example of a typical bomb disposal suit:

Made out of Kevlar and Armour-plating, with on-board battery pack, microphone, headphones and flashlight. Who wants to be Number One today?

I wonder if the British Army have learnt the lessons from the US Army. Since 1997, The Pentagon has invested $19 billion dollars trying to invent the world’s best bomb detection equipment. The result?

They discovered that “Dogs are the best bomb detectors”!

Money well spent then…

.

Read More:

Find out more about the technology in the Bomb Disposal Suits

If you fancy yourself as a bomb disposal expert, learn how to defuse an atomic bomb!

The most recent Wiltshire Times news article on the bomb scare

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

One thought on “Interview with a Bomb Disposal Expert: Meet the man who saved Trowbridge Town!

  1. This article you wrote makes it sound like its a glorious job disarming bombs. If you watch The Hurt Locker, you would see a scene where a guy has to disarm a bomb from someone who has been forced to have a bomb strapped to them. In the end, he couldnt do it and had to say sorry to the man and run because the bomb was about to blow.

    Posted by Not impressed | February 5, 2013, 3:09 am

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