By Jordan W. Charness
Last week we looked at some of the vehicles that Montréal’s SWAT team uses to respond to extremely hazardous emergencies. These guys are never called out unless the job is big and dangerous. Their vehicles are extremely specialized and of course big and dangerous. Bomb disposal is probably the scariest job in the world. I got a firsthand look at how these experts do their job and the type of vehicles that they use.
Montreal’s SWAT team has at least three types of vehicles that are dedicated to dealing with bomb disposal. One of them looks like a giant concrete well which is clearly marked as containing hazardous material. The hazardous material they’re referring to may be a bomb that was found and was placed inside this trailer for transportation to a place where it could be safely disposed of. This is one strong vehicle capable of withstanding a large explosion without causing damage to anything around it. Nonetheless it is only used to transport a bomb the shortest distance possible to where it can be safely dealt with.
In order to deal with the bomb the SWAT team has a truck filled with sophisticated anti-bomb devices. One of the most sophisticated is a robot that is capable of climbing stairs, picking items up for examination and photographing them all from a safe distance away. It looks like a giant arm on tank treads and steroids.
The robot is used by the bomb disposal specialists to examine suspicious objects, move them where possible and set anti-bomb devices to destroy the bombs. One of the simplest yet most effective anti-bomb devices is a water cannon. It looks like a half-metre long level pipe with a little hole on one end that has a plastic cap. The other end is somewhat larger and is connected to an explosive device.
The basic theory is that a litre or so of water is placed into the pipe and an explosive charge shoots the water out of the little hole. The water flies out at great speed and can travel several metres without losing its form or shape. Once it hits the suspected bomb its water droplets spread out like shrapnel destroying the electronics and wiring without detonating the bomb. Since it is water hitting the bomb instead of hot lead there is much less chance of setting off the bomb.
With all these dangerous things going on at once, the police often cordon off many square blocks and do not allow vehicles to travel within the cordoned-off area. What if one of these areas includes your house or your place of work?
Since people are rarely told the reason for streets being cordoned off there is often a lot of frustration expressed on behalf of drivers who simply want to get home or to work. Some people have been known to ignore the safety tape or sawhorses and try to slip through to get to their destination. Not only is this a stupid and dangerous practice it is also illegal and you could face criminal charges of obstruction of justice if you try to drive through police tape blocking off the roadway. Pleading that you’re only going to home or work will not be a defence to these criminal charges.
Trying to push through with your vehicle could also lead to charges of criminal assault with a dangerous weapon since the car, being many tons of metal, has been considered as a weapon in many a criminal case.
It’s always better to assume that the police know what they’re doing and that there is indeed a dangerous situation even if you may not be fully apprised of what it is.
Sometimes there is no other choice but to get close to the bomb in person. Upon my request the bomb squad dressed me in one of their bomb disposal outfits. It had to weigh at least 150 pounds and consisted of full padded armour from head to toe. Once I was helmeted and snapped in I could barely move let alone do something as complicated and dangerous as disarming a live bomb. Think of that next time you consider driving across or through an area cordoned off by the police.