The Lubbock County Bomb Squad was called out to a Levelland convenience store Friday morning.
Bomb squad commander Chris Eppler says a customer at Stripes on Clubview Drive found a small box, no bigger than an iPhone, that had the word "explosives" printed on the package.
Eppler and his bomb technicians arrived at the convenience store, did an x-ray on the package and determined it was not a threat. He says the package contained a detonator cap, similar to the explosives used in oilfield work. "Instead of a threat it turned to be a recovery of an explosive that had evidently been lost off of someone's vehicle," Eppler said.
Even though it was nothing serious, Eppler says his bomb squad members are no strangers to dangerous situations. The squad made up of three techs from the Lubbock Police Department and three from the Lubbock County Sheriff's Office respond to about 150 calls a year. "That's Lubbock, 22 counties surrounding Lubbock and calls where we assist other agencies.
The calls fluctuate, but Eppler says when there are bombings like the one at the Boston Marathon, their squad receives an increase in calls about suspicious packages. "We're glad we get those calls," Eppler said. "I would rather go somewhere and pick up a briefcase or piece of trash that somebody left and know everyone is safe ... rather than have someone say 'Oh it's just trash', they pick it up and now we're working on a homicide."
While many are false alarms, there are times Eppler and his team are put in serious danger. "It can be very intense. Usually there is a lot of nervous laughter when we're around each other getting ready. Everyone has their quarks. I sing the whole time in my bomb suit," he laughed. "It helps pacify me while I'm doing what I'm doing."
In addition to wearing heavy duty, 85 pound bomb suits to help protect their bodies, Eppler says they use a lot of high tech tools that allow them to work with the bombs at a greater distance. "Years ago bomb techs would go out there with a rope, some clamps and do his thing. Now we've progressed into the future and use robots and other things like that," he said. "It's all for safety to make sure we stay around to go home to our families."
The steel robot with heavy duty wheels was purchased in 2005 and cost around $150,000. Through a large remote control, the bomb techs are able to raise the robot several feet high, control a mechanical arm that can clasp the bomb, and has cameras that can look over tall objects.
In addition to the robot, Eppler says they use X-rays, explosives to battle bombs, two bomb sniffing dogs, and several other techniques he could not discuss for the safety of his technicians.
Even though they try to do all their work at distance with these tools, they're still at risk each time they respond to these calls.
"That's just part of the job. We do it because we love it. We do it to keep people safe," Eppler
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