HELENA — A bomb squad is something you might not think about until it’s needed. In Montana, there are only three public safety bomb squads—one in Missoula, one in Billings and one in Helena.
Being part of the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad is an around-the-clock job for its members. They can get called out to a situation whether it’s in-county or not, and whether they’re on duty or not.
“We’ll respond anywhere that we’re needed within the state of Montana,” said Corporal Neil Marks.
Marks is one of two current bomb technicians on the LCCSO Bomb Squad. They get called out to a variety of situations, from bomb threats to abandoned mining explosives.
“A lot of the types of calls we get are people finding cases of dynamite—old dynamite or something related to the mining industry,” Marks said.
There are often a number of unknowns when bomb techs are responding to a call. Their job is to identify what they’re dealing with and the risk it poses, then render the situation safe.
The squad has tools to help them do their job safely. Most noticeable of the equipment—the bomb suit and their robot.
“We are able to do this with funding from both the state and the federal government,” Marks said. “That’s what pays for the majority of this equipment.”
But equipment is only part of it—bomb squad technicians also put in hours and hours of training.
Deputies can volunteer to the part of the squad, then they go through a six-week training course through the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hazardous Devices School. Throughout their tenure on the squad, technicians also have to complete 20 additional hours of training each month.
“That’s a requirement by the FBI,” Marks said.
All of it is aimed at keeping residents of Lewis & Clark County and beyond safe.
There are things the public can do to help the bomb squad. Marks said tips and information from the public are critical. If you see something suspicious—report it. Marks warned people to keep a distance, but he said it is helpful if people take note of things like the size, shape and color of the suspicious object, and any sounds or noises emanating from it. Those details can help the bomb squad determine what they are dealing with.
NOTE: Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls also has a bomb squad - the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. The EOD team does occasionally respond to situations in the civilian community.
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