The Oregon State Police bomb squad recently received a robot with increased capabilities and a mobile monitor to help detect dangerous explosives. Shown, left to right: OSP Detectives Eldon Alexander, Dennis Wagner, and Mike Schultz.

By Joyce Hensley

Staff writer

PENDLETON — Members of the new Oregon State Police (OSP) bomb squad have one goal in mind — to protect the public from harmful explosives.

And that goal keeps them busy throughout the year.

"We usually respond to 50 to 60 calls a year," said Wagner.

They expect to render more explosive devises safe this year than last year.

"We've had 40 so far this year. We could have a pretty busy year by the end of the year."

Because suspected explosives have the potential to become deadly, the team responds as quickly as possible to the scene.

"We want to prevent someone from getting hurt or killed," said OSP Detective Dennis Wagner, bomb squad technician.

"We would rather come out and deal with it, rather than coming out after someone has been killed," said Detective Mike Schultz. "We would rather err on the side of caution."

Wagner, who recently became a hazard device technician, joins bomb techs Schultz, and 20-year veteran, part time OSP bomb squad member, Eldon Alexander.

Wagner replaces Detective Mike Davis, who recently retired.

The squad is one of three bomb teams in the state — one has headquarters in the Salem OSP office, the other in Medford.

The Pendleton team covers the entire Eastern Oregon area from the Cascades west, to the Idaho border east, the Washington border north, to the Nevada/California border south.

They respond to calls of homemade devices found in roads or on private property. The explosives are often pipe bombs or molotov cocktails, old dynamite and blasting caps, or old military ammunition.

They will also render safe old commercial explosives and unknown chemical.

Different explosives respond in various ways. They can detonate by movement, static electricity, heat, or radio waves.

"You won't see these guys (the bomb techs) move it," said Alexander. "They deal with it in place."

Anyone who comes across a suspicious object is encouraged to call the bomb squard.

"People can call us," said Wagner. "It's all free."

The bomb squad's 24-hour number is 922-5751.

Schultz, Wagner, and Alexander recently were the recipients of an improved robot and a portable monitor unit with increased capabilities received when the Salem office was approved for a new equipment grant through Home Security.

Their improved robot has three cameras — a pan tilt zoom camera and two stationary cameras.

Shots from all three cameras are received simultaneously on the mobile monitor.

The robot, controlled by remote or hard-wired fiber optics, will climb stairs and maneuver in rough terrain.

"We use it when we can," Wagner said. "It keeps us at a safe distance from the devise."

In a recent case, the OSP bomb squad utilized the robot to clear a suspect's house of potential explosives before law enforcement entered the structure.

The resident, a suspect wanted by law enforcement, had threatened to set off explosives he claimed were in the house.

The OSP technicians swept the building before other law enforcement officers entered the structure to search for weapons, drugs, and stolen goods. Fortunately, no explosives were found.

On July 28, Alexander and Wagner repelled a cliff to destroy 40 pounds of Tovex and 40 blasting caps from the side of a mountain.

A gold miner, with a pick-up load of mined ore and the explosives, had left the road near Huntington tumbling 200 feet to the canyon below.

"The explosives were strewn over the side of the hill," said Schultz.

"We assisted the Baker County Sheriff and BLM law enforcement," said Wagner. "They lowered us down. Eldon and I rendered them (the explosives) safe."

Although Wagner and Schultz became part of the OSP Bomb Squad 18 months ago, they were not qualified as bomb technicians until they were certified through five weeks of training at the Redstone Arsenal Hazard Devises School at Huntsville in Alabama.

Wagner completed his accreditation in July, Schultz last November.

Besides their initial training, each team member must train an additional 16 hours a month to maintain their certification.

To become an Oregon State Police bomb squad technician takes patience.

"We are hand selected," Alexander said. "You go through a selection board and pass various tests for things such as manual dexterity."

The Bomb Squad received a grant from the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) for Schultz and Wagner's schooling.

"We've formed a good partnership," said Wagner.

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