FARMINGTON -- The $25,000 suit and helmet may say "military," but for those who wear them it says, "one more chance to live."
Since January, the bomb squad has been out on 18 calls in Davis County, said Davis County Sheriff's Detective Bret Christensen, squad commander. Some have turned out to be non-threatening devices, while others have been pipe bombs or the remnants of acid bombs, like the "works" bombs, which have become popular with teenagers and young adults due to the Internet.
The Davis County Sheriff's Bomb Squad has six members, four from the Davis County Sheriff's Office and two from the Weber County Sheriff's Office. Three are certified bomb technicians who have attended the six-week course at the FBI Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Army Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.
When the bomb squad is out in booths meeting the public and displaying its equipment, Christensen also shares the history of how civilian bomb squads were organized.
Christensen said the county's bomb squad and all other bomb squads throughout the country are not affiliated with the military.
Many of the local civilian bomb squads were formed either during the Vietnam War era or shortly afterward. Before that the military, usually the Army, dealt with bombs, explosive devices or incendiary devices left in banks, cars, businesses or other areas. But because so many bomb technicians were sent to Vietnam to deal with problems there, the military could no longer take care of civilian bomb threats.
The FBI took over civilian bomb squads and now supervises them, Christensen said.
If Davis' bomb squad was disbanded, then the gear, which is paid for by federal grants, would be returned to the FBI and dispersed to other squads.
"We are mandated by the FBI to have this equipment," Christensen said.
The Davis bomb squad is responsible to take care of any incendiary or explosive device found in Davis, Weber and Morgan counties. They can ask the bomb squad at Hill Air Force Base to help them when warranted. They also can turn to any of the other seven bomb squads in the state for help and be asked to help the other bomb squads. Because of the Boston Marathon bombing early this year, bomb squads were at Utah marathons, like the Ogden and Salt Lake marathons, as a precaution.
In July the squad was called out several times and each time the device that caused concern was a firework left burning or unattended.
Christensen said the equipment the squad uses is not as sophisticated or as technical as what is used by squads in Los Angeles or New York. But what they do use can save their lives if a situation turns to trouble.
The robot, which is a favorite of kids and adults at presentations, is used often. The base cost of the robot starts at $120,000.
Christensen can remotely move the robot to a package or the incendiary device, take pictures of it and dismantle the device with the robot. He can watch what the robot does because it has three cameras on it.
Moving it remotely takes time and sometimes can be difficult.
"It has a few dings on it," Christensen said, pointing to dents on the robot's arms.
To disarm a pipe bomb remotely is the safest way, even if it means shooting water at the pipe bomb. When the squad was called to Mountain View Elementary School in April, the squad used the robot to first determine what the object was, then used water to disarm the metal pipe bomb, which caused a loud boom but did not cause any damage to the school or surrounding area.
"Black powder has killed more bomb techs than any other device," Christensen said.
Bomb squads work with police and fire agencies. If a police officer or firefighter finds a suspicious package they are told to call.
The FBI's motto for bomb technicians is to "Go remote and stay remote," in examining and disarming explosives.
But if a bomb technician needs to get close to a bomb, he puts on a bomb suit, which can cost up to $25,000. The jacket alone weighs roughly 80 pounds and can cost up to $25,000. Even at that price, the suits need to be replaced every few years because of wear and tear. The suits are not "one size fits all" and bomb technicians come in all sizes. The squad has three suits to fit each certified bomb technician.
The suit is designed to deflect the explosion around the technician. It comes equipped with protective plates and a spine protector.
If it doesn't work, the squad jokes, "It's a $25,000 body bag," Christensen said.
Also, the squad uses technology borrowed from veterinarians. The squad has a hand-held X-ray device that takes digital photos of devices or unattended packages so the technicians can see what is inside without opening it.
"That way, it doesn't disrupt the bomb and it doesn't detonate on us," he said.
Technicians rarely take the bomb apart, like what is shown in movies or TV. Instead they will use water devices or other devices to detonate the bomb without causing damage to buildings or other public areas.
"There is a real need for us to be here," Christensen said. "We can handle any explosive device."