Deputy Dan Semmerling of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department has been an explosive ordinance disposal techician with the Marathon-Oneida Bomb Squad for
four years. He’s handled dynamite, moved pipe bombs, and destroyed hand
grenades. As a bomb tech he works with dangerous materials all the
time—but he also gets to work with some very interesting tools.
“The newest thing we’re doing is explosive breaching,” Semmerling said.
“The explosive breaching is neat. I mean we can do portholes through walls, we can take out windows—different entries for Special Response Teams to be able to make entry in a quick, orderly fashion,” Semmerling said.
That’s right, those little explosives frequently seen in action movies to break through big, stainless steel vault doors are real. Sort of.
“It’s a dynamic entry,” he said. “The difference is having someone run up with a battering ram and have to hit it three, four times to get inside a door, versus using a minimal amount of explosives to make an entry where the door will just fall down and they can run right in.”
Training for this newest technique involved two weeks in Las Vegas, but not the kind of Vegas fun you’d expect.
“Me and the two guys from Marathon County did a two week schoool in Las Vegas with the Las Vegas SWAT team, of explosive breaching,” Semmerling said. “We’re certified explosive breachers now.”
Not only that, but just last week Semmerling spent two days training with a bomb disposal robot—the kind of robot he hopes Oneida County will be getting this year.
“The lieutenant from Marathon County is working on the funding,” Semmerling said. “From his last meeting it sounded very positive that the funding could be available this year for a robot. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”
“A robot would be a great addition, not only for bomb squad use, but for SRT use as well,” he said. “If they need to get eyes or talk to a subject, you can run a robot up and be able to have communications, at least video surveillance, and not have to send a person up. It would bring a lot of capabilities to this department.”
In addition to robots and explosives, the Bomb Squad also has x-ray equipment, remote manipulations systems, and the suit.
“The suit weighs up to 90 pounds, and you have limited visibility, limited communications, dexterity is a problem, but we train in that on a regular basis, how to maneuver in the suit,” Semmerling said. “For me, I’m quite comfortable in the suit, it’s bulky and hard to move, but we’re used to wearing it now.”
We’ve all seen the suits, a mass of big, hulking green pads that make the inhabitant look like a big, unappetizing marshmellow. Oneida County’s suit is an EOD 8 suit, “rated to stop fragmentation at an average rate of 2100 fps(feet per second).” Distance and amount of fragmentation also play a factor, but Semmerling said he’s seen videos of people in the suit taking a blast from a stick of dynamite without a problem.
The x-ray is also relatively new to the county. When a suspicious package was discovered at the Oneida County Courthouse last year, they used a similar machine to discover the contents of the bag.
“The FBI mandates that we train 16 hours a month, to keep up with our certification,” Semmerling said. “We’re very diversified in our training.”
Semmerling, along with a new bomb tech in Oneida who just finished his training last sumer and two techs from Marathon County, serves a 32 county area with explosive ordinance disposal, and now with explosive breaching.
“That’s something with the program that we’re trying to develop more, because we service 32 counties,” Semmerling said. “We eventually want to be able to train with the other county Special Response Teams.”
Last year the Bomb Squad responded to 27 callouts, more than the Special Response Team, as well as most of the Sheriff’s Department special units.
“There’s a lot of opportunities at this department, with the Dive team, the SRT unit and the bomb squad,” Semmerling said. “I want to help out any way I can at the department… it’s just an opportunity I thought I had a good fit for.”